Making the right choices requires a different kind of intelligence. 

Build an ethical life. 

Do you know your ethical intelligence?

You can find quite a bit on emotional intelligence in articles and from Daniel Goldman. Remember the seven types of intelligence described by Howard Gardner? In today’s world, I would argue that ethical intelligence has taken center stage in redeeming the core of our better selves.

Bruce Weinstein points us in that direction by describing the principles of ethical intelligence.

“To be an ethically intelligent person is to strive to be the best human being one can be. There are many benefits to living this way—peace of mind, strong and meaningful relationships, a feeling of purpose and direction—but it’s also worth remembering that the main reason to live an ethically intelligent life is because it’s the right thing to do.

As you read through Weinstein’s five principles of ethical intelligence, they sound like what we learned from our parents or precepts in religious beliefs. They make sense and sound effortless. As you may observe in your daily interactions and following the news—we seem to have a shortage of emotional intelligence.

Follow these five principles.

No.1 Do no harm.

Following this principle requires—well—doing nothing. What comes to my mind are all those times when I felt compelled to say one more thing. One more word might have caused more harm. What if I had just stopped talking?

Or the time I chose not to comment on a rude remark, but instead, I let it go. To do no harm calls us to use restraint.

What if we took that same restraint into our daily interactions — even when our instinct is to push on?

“The very least you can expect from your fellow human beings is their willingness not to inflict physical or emotional damage on you, and of course, they have the right to insist that you do the same for them.”

No.2 Make things better.

This principle focuses on improving circumstances for others and yourself.

“Ethics isn’t just about how you treat other people. It’s also about how you treat yourself. Regarding yourself in an ethical manner means making sure that your body, mind, and spirit are nourished and satisfied.”

We don’t often consider the importance of treating ourselves ethically. For example, we take our health for granted, ignoring early warning signs. Stress, overeating, lack of exercise wear us down physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

My yellow warning flag came unexpectedly, or so I thought. In my mind, I was active and healthy. Not only that, I didn’t take any medication, walked my 10,000 steps, and practiced yoga.

How great is that?

Not exactly. Years of stress combined with yo-yo dieting and a genetic tendency toward high cholesterol and high blood pressure caught up with me.

The time arrived to make things better for myself. I had spent years taking care of others. In my mind, self-care equated to self-indulgence.

I was wrong.

No. 3 Respect others

Where I grew up, your parents taught you to respect your elders.

Heaven help the child who forgot to respond “yes ma’am” or “no sir.” To this day, those cultural norms will slip into my conversations.

What is the difference between respect as etiquette and respect as a matter of ethics?

“Rude or offensive behavior is a breach of etiquette. Behavior that is harmful or violates another person’s rights is a breach of ethics. Ethically intelligent people show respect in the deeper sense by honoring the values, preferences, and, most important, the rights of others.”

No. 4 Be fair

“That’s not fair”

“Life isn’t always fair”

I can’t tell you how many times that exchange played out with my children. I heard similar laments in the office when a colleague felt slighted by being passed over for a promotion.

Fairness is not about getting your way.

Fairness is about “giving others their due.” Weinstein explains how fairness isn’t always crystal clear.

“What, one might ask, is due to others? The correct answer to this question is, it depends.”

He goes on to explain that fairness may relate to need or a matter of claim as “first come, first served.”

Relative to ethical intelligence, giving others their due includes three primary considerations:

  • Allocating scarce resources
  • Disciplining or punishing
  • Rectifying injustice

No. 5 Be loving

You might wonder what love has to do with ethics.

“If love seems hard to fathom in a business context, just think of care, compassion, or kindness instead. They are close cousins.”

Creating healthy and safe environments at school, home, or work requires building relationships. It’s easy to dislike someone we don’t know and make assumptions about their motives and beliefs.

We find it easy to stereotype and pass judgment on large groups of strangers. Even worse, distancing ourselves opens the door to dehumanization. Brené Brown has a profound statement that changed how I look at others.

“People are hard to hate close up. Move in.”

As I look at the news and listen to the rhetoric in the United States today, maybe it’s time to move in. You will never eliminate extreme differences in beliefs or opinions.

But between that polarity lies some common ground. That could be a place to begin.

Three critical components to guide you.

Weinstein points out that ethical intelligence doesn’t come by reading a book or taking a single course. We learn ethical intelligence through the iteration of three critical actions over time.

  1. The capacity to discover the right course of action
  2. Acting upon what you discover
  3. The commitment to making this exploration a lifelong journey

We may not think about the decisions we make every day regarding our personal ethics. But we can become more intentional as we gain awareness of the five principles.

You might want to take a moment and test your Ethics IQ. Keep in mind building and maintaining ethical intelligence comes from consistent and deliberate actions over a lifetime.

“The first step in the evolution of ethics
is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”

—Albert Schweitzer

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.

Photo: © Kathryn LeRoy