Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Virtue of Ethical Self-Discipline!

Groucho Marx famously said, "the secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made!"

It's easy enough to acknowledge the benefits of ethical behaviour - in principle. But the practice of business, government, and community affairs is often at odds with what seems "right". The number 1 reason for ethical violations in business is the pressure to meet expectations, sometimes unrealistic expectations.

So how do you develop and sustain the ethical self-discipline to stand firm when all about you are bending?

The second practice for living life wisely is the virtue of ethical self-discipline. There are three kinds of ethical discipline:

1. The moral discipline of restraint from non-virtue, in particular:
    • Do not kill - instead, support life in all its forms as much as possible.
    • Do not steal - which means to not knowingly gain from another's misfortune or ignorance.
    • Do not deceive - which means to be honest and truthful in all things, with oneself as well as others, while not intending to hurt or undermine anyone (which can sometimes be a bit tricky!).
    • Do not engage in sexual misconduct - avoid sexual relations that do harm to each other or to people outside the relationship.
    • Do not engage in intoxication - which means to limit or avoid the addictions of modern life, from shopping, gambling, gaming, television, to alcohol and drugs. Anything which may dull the senses and avoid experiencing life with mindfulness and clarity.
This might seem like a set of "commandments", but they form a pretty useful set of guidelines for leading an ethical life. In all the wisdom of our collected human experience things are not likely to fare well if you make any one of these non-virtues a habit!

2. The virtue of accumulating positive qualitiesVirtue is it's own reward. Simply being ethical, intelligent, and respectable leads to a positive reputation and an honourable legacy. It might be rare, but we look up to those exemplars of moral conduct in our business, political, and community organisations. 

3. The discipline of selfless service: Just like generosity, nurturing the desire to benefit everyone (with sufficient regard for oneself). This is, perhaps an aspiration - to wish to be of greatest service for whomever one might come into contact with. At one level this is a kind of philanthropy, to bring about the most amount of good with one's financial resources. But at a deeper level, it is the practice of giving of oneself without expecting reward.

Whenever you find yourself struggling with a moral dilemma, put yourself through the Four Gates. Whatever action you are about to take, ask yourself these four questions:
  1. Is it truthful?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it kind?
  4. What is my motivation, my genuine intention?
If you can say yes to each question - if you can pass through each gate - then go ahead. If not, stop and go no further.