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.

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