When your moral compass is headed true North, you will know you are on the right path to ethical decision-making. By placing moral in front of compass we create a clear vision of the mental processes that point us in an ethical direction. Using the metaphor of the moral compass to describe our inner sense of right and wrong offers a framework to guide our actions.
But, how do we get from point “A” to point “B”? It starts with having your heart in the right place. We often think of ourselves first before considering the needs of others. Taken to an extreme, an egoistic person acts selfishly not selflessly. Acting purely from self-interest, at best, keeps us parallel to the original position and can turn our compass South if our actions do harm to others. We avoid going in that direction by living a life of integrity.
We also need to understand and appreciate why we should consider the needs of others before acting. We could simply go back to The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. None of us, presumably, wants to be disrespected so we should treat others respectfully. We seek out loyal and empathic friends who are there when we need them. These are people who can relate to our challenges and problems in life and be there for us when we feel down and depressed. We would do the same for them.
How can we know whether are actions are right or wrong? What tools can we use to assess whether our moral compass is headed in the right direction? The traditional test is to apply ethical decision-making methods such as Rights Theory that obligates us to respect the rights of others and live up to our obligations towards them. Another approach is to evaluate the possible benefits and harms of alternative courses of action on stakeholders who may be affected by our possible actions and choose the one that maximizes net benefits. We also look at whether our actions are just, fair, treat others equally. Another important consideration is the role of virtue in the individual making the decision and the decision itself. Are our actions consistent with characteristic traits of behavior such as honesty, empathy, respectfulness, integrity, responsibility and so on?
I find, as I get older, how important it has been to be kind to others growing up. Kindness taught me tolerance. Tolerance has taught me to respect every person regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and nationality. But it’s more than tolerance. We shouldn’t just embrace “tolerating” people. We should embrace treating others as our equals as long as they seek to do the right thing as we know it. We should strive to improve the lives of others, regardless of their preferences, because that’s how we build a moral society.
Dr. Steven Mintz is a writer and speaker on ethics issues and provides consulting and litigation support services. Visit Steve’s website and sign up for his Newsletter.