‘Ethics‘ has its roots in the Greek word ‘ethos’ which means customs, conduct, or character. Ethics are closely linked with values and morals. Values are the prime motivations and influence our behaviour. Values are at the core of ethics. Morals help us differentiate between right and wrong and are influenced by our values. A person who is just and driven by the ‘fairness’ value will behave with people in a fair and straightforward manner. Thus, our values manifest in our behaviour, conduct and character.
An ethical person is just and honest, respects and serves others, and acts in the best interest of the society. So, to be an ethical person, we need to check persistently as to whether we are conducting ourselves in a just, honest, and respectful manner and making decisions for the good of the people. The Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College has developed six questions, as given below, to evaluate the ethics of a specific decision (Cited in Leadership by Andrew J. DuBrin, p. 176-177):
- Is it right?
- Is it fair?
- Who gets hurt?
- Would you be comfortable if the details of your decision or actions were made public in the media or through e-mail?
- What would you tell your child or sibling or young relative to do?
- How does it smell?
It is worthwhile quoting here Aristotle (384-322 BCE), the great Greek philosopher, who said centuries ago that:
“We are what we repeatedly do…
(Wo)men acquire a particular quality by
Constantly acting a particular way —
You become just by performing just actions,
Temperate by performing temperate actions,
Brave by performing brave actions.”
We become ethical when we perform ethical, moral and values-driven actions, which eventually shape our character and in turn our destiny.