Ethical Interactions

A true leader is someone other people want to emulate. Treating other people with respect is step one.

There is a lot of discussion about ethical leadership.  We want our leaders to be ethical. But what does that really mean?

Ethical leaders are people who make ethical decisions, certainly. But it’s also about how they interact with and treat other people.  And this is really the big secret about ethics. Ethics isn’t about how we should behave. It’s about how we want other people to treat us.

If people are honest with us, it makes our lives easier. If they consider us as someone worthy of basic justice, it makes our lives easier.  If they treat us with respect, it feels great because we know, they are less likely to lie, cheat or steal from us.  Ethics is about us, and our goals dreams and desires and how WE want to be treated.

When you understand this, you begin to understand how important it is to extend the same sort of respect you want to others.  And yes, this is a lot like the golden rule. Treat others as you wish to be treated. But it goes deeper than that.

The reason to make sure your interactions with other people is ethical is not just because you should. It’s because these other people have a choice. They are autonomous and want to be treated with respect to and ethical people don’t tolerate unethical behavior for very long. They will not want to hang out or do business with you if you yourself are not ethical! Plus treating other people ethically also makes you feel good. Being ethical is something you do for you because it’s how YOU want to be treated. I really don’t understand why people choose otherwise.

To make sure your interactions are ethical, start by considering whether you are approaching other people with respect.

Ethics are grounded in respect. Every human rights document and Humanist manifesto starts with a foundational statement that every human is worthy of dignity and respect. This is not just a catch phrase. It actually means something pretty important. Every person you meet, everywhere in the world is a real person and they are worthy of the respect that you would give to any fully autonomous human. When you get this, it changes everything.

When we don’t consider other people as fully autonomous, we tend to see them through the lens of our own needs and wants and that’s not only not very respectful, it’s also not very effective and it can causes us to put our own needs, wants and desires above the other persons. And that is what leads us to behave unethically.

In contract, when you recognize and respect the autonomy of other people, your expectations for them change. They are no longer someone who either helps you or hurts you. They are someone you are hoping will help you and not hurt you. This no longer about you – it’s about them. This slight shift in focus is what real respect feels like. And it has a profound impact on how you treat other people and how you are treated by them in return.

When you view someone with respect, you see yourself in them. You are them to a certain extent and the thought of hurting them by being unethical becomes unthinkable. This is the truth that all the different variations of the golden rule try to capture.  It’s about recognizing and respecting the reality of the human you are interacting with and treating them accordingly.

Musing on the Beatitudes

Why I think the Beatitudes are a wonderful statement of Humanism – despite the religious language.

Here is probably one of the most famous quotes about beatitude:

“Not from earthly riches but from the milk of human kindness comes true beatitude.”
Attributed to St. Gregory of Nyssa, A mystic who lived in Cappadocia in Asia Minor around 380 AD.

I love this quote – because I agree with it. Miriam Webster defines beatitude as “a state of utmost bliss.”  Actively practicing kindness feels really good. In fact, I would say that the above quote is a perfect encapsulation of the Humanist approach to happiness.

Which brings me to – The Beatitudes – which are the 8 blessings Jesus gave during his Sermon on the Mount.  What you will notice is that – Jesus sounds A LOT like a Humanist – except for his references to God and Heaven and what he thinks will be their rewards.

Basically, he is saying that those who are the most blessed are people who choose to live their lives like the Humanists do. Here me out.

  • Blessed are those that are poor in spirit – people who aren’t very religious. Check.
  • Blessed are those who mourn – people who feel deep empathy for those who suffer and die. Check
  • Blessed are the meek. People who are humble enough to realize they don’t know everything. Check
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Check.
  • Blessed are the merciful – people who care enough to help the needy. Check
  • Blessed are those who are pure in heart – people who are unstained by guilt or who act morally. Check
  • Blessed are the peacemakers – people who seek out compassion based solutions instead of fighting all the time. Check
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Given how often Humanists are attacked for standing up for the poor, truth and for advocating for peace – yeah – Check. 

If you were to describe the values a Humanist holds dear – this is a pretty darned good list. And, I can tell you from personal experience – that practicing these character traits does indeed leave to high levels of beatitude in your life.

So live life as Jesus wanted you to – like a Humanist.

Conditioning and Choices

Humans have the ability to choose whether the conditions we find ourselves in will condition us.

I was reading Viktor Frankel’s book The Unheard Cry for Meaning: Psychotherapy and Humanism (Touchstone Books). In one chapter he talks about how our situations condition us but that as humans we have the ability to choose whether the conditions we find ourselves in will condition us.

I wanted to share this with you because understanding how animals, including human animals are conditioned by the conditions around them helps us better choose whether or not to allow that conditioning to occur. This is why pretty much all my courses at Humanist Learning Systems are about how to manage and control behavioral conditioning so that you can recognize it when it is happening and control the process and thereby gain control over your life!

So let’s start with what conditioning is. Conditioning is a behavioral process whereby a response becomes more frequent or more predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement, with reinforcement typically being a stimulus or reward for a desired response. To give you an example of what this mean in a practical way:  if you train a dog to sit when you say sit, you have “conditioned” it to respond this way to the stimulus of your command and you did this by reinforcing the behavior you wanted by rewarding your dog either with a treat or with love every time they sat when you said sit.

This sort of active intentional conditioning is called operant conditioning because it involves the conscious use of rewards to create a specific behavior by an operator.

However, that’s not the only way conditioning occurs. It also occurs without us knowing or intending for it to happen. For example, PTSD  - is a conditioned response to a traumatic stimulus. No one chooses to get PTSD – it happens because of our natural responses to the conditions around us.

Once you understand how these rewards and reinforcements work, you can see them happening in your own life all around you and in how you respond to what’s happening around you.  And, when you can see it, you can control it. Which is why – we humans have the ability to choose whether or not the conditions we find ourselves in condition us or not. But the only way to exercise that choice – is to be conscious you have a choice.

Knowledge and wisdom really is the key to everything.  Once you realize you have a choice, it changes everything. How you respond to interpersonal situations and how you respond to situations beyond your control.  I liken this to becoming like Neo in the movie The Matrix. It really is astounding how much control we really do have. Is that control absolute? No – but it’s still pretty powerful.

To learn more – consider taking some of my courses at Humanist Learning Systems. Specifically:

All of these courses will give you a basic understanding of how conditioning works so you can be more conscious of your choices.

How to seek happiness


Do you actively seek to be happy in your life (by practicing a certain behavior) or just flow with it?


It's not that I seek happiness. It's more that I value being happy and so I integrate that value into my decision making process. As a result, I am more likely to choose behaviors that contribute to happiness (myself and others).

For me, happiness is a byproduct of good decision making and ethical behavior.   It's not something I seek. I seek to do and to be good. Happiness results from that.

Additionally, having happiness as a value - as opposed to a desire -  helps me in those instances when I am faced with an Epicurean dilemma. Do I accept short term pain for long term gain?  Do I reject short term happiness if it will cause long term pain? If I value happiness, yes I do.  If I seek happiness, I do not.

I think if you are seeking happiness, you are going to end up unhappy and unsatisfied.  Going with the flow isn't a good option either. Happiness is important. But it is something to be valued, rather than desired.

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