Ethics, Morals & Values

ethics

I remember being in a Bible Study once and a woman who hadn’t done her homework asked me what I had down for some of the answers. I laughingly said “I think it might be double-wrong to cheat on Bible Study homework!” Of course I was just teasing her and that was not a serious statement levied towards her. She was simply asking about some of the questions that were confusing to her about our study.

When I teach Business Ethics, we always begin with clarification of terms. You cannot talk about ETHICS without considering a few other terms: Morals & Values. We don’t talk much about what we value today. There is discussion in the social circles about values, but the discussion tends to be vague. It is even more difficult to have this discussion in the workplace about Business.

ethicsmoralsvalues
Mintz & Morris “Ethical Obligations & Decision Making in Accounting (2011).”

Ethics are simply defined as what is a Society’s standard of behavior of RIGHT and what is WRONG. MORALS comes from applying those ethics with principles and a framework of VALUES. VALUES are personal beliefs that are chosen or are cultural.

This is so very confusing and gets blurry very quickly! Here’s a way to think about this. We will start backwards. Values are personal. They can include hard work, integrity, honesty, love, servant attitude. It’s personalized and each individual has their own values. You can also have negative values – like valuing money above all else or greed, coveting, etc.

The word “morals” comes from Latin and has the root word “mores (pronounced “more rays”). Mores means societal customs and literally means manners of doing what is right and wrong. Morality becomes “conformity to the rules of right conduct.”

The word “ethics” comes from the Greek word “ethos” which means character. Many times people look at ethics as a moral code that governs the internal decisions of a person and morals as the external code for society. Whatever the case, both are intertwined.

This becomes even more convoluted when you look at ethics, morals and values from a Diversity viewpoint. For example, I did consulting work for a manufacturing company that was having issues with their employees stealing equipment. When I asked what was happening, they told me that they gave each employee a meat cutting knife to use. The employees were stealing these expensive knives ($50+ each) and they kept having to order more. What they didn’t realize is that most of their employees were from another culture where “giving” the knife meant it was theirs to keep. They were simply taking it home and using it in their kitchens. The management did not explain that when they gave the knife, it was to only be used at work. I asked if the employees could possibly take the nice knives home if they promised to bring them back for their shift? They reluctantly said yes, but if the employees did not, they would start fining them. Guess what happened? After a meeting with the employees to discuss the misunderstanding, the knives came back. The rest of the year, they did not have to order any more. This was not “stealing” it was “given.”

So, if ethics is defined as “right or wrong,” how do you make that as a general rule? What is right and what is wrong? If we use Morality, then we use society’s definition of what is right and wrong. Is it wrong to kill people? Most would say yes, it is wrong, yet we have the death sentence and abortion. When is it okay to kill? What about war? What about euthanasia (painless killing of a patient with a terminal disease)? What about suicide? These are very difficult questions that are made even more difficult when you take God out of the picture.

Scripture tells us in Amos 7:7-8 “Thus He showed me, and behold, the Lord was standing by a vertical wall with a plumb line in His hand. 8The LORD said to me, “What do you see,Amos?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,“Behold I am about to put a plumb line In the midst of My people Israel. I will spare them no longer…” There is a plumb line. For those not familiar with this concept, it’s used in building so that things are straight. You attach a heavy weight to the end of a string and suspend it. It gives you a way to measure and make your walls straight. For us, it is a Biblical Standard for being upright or righteous. It is a way to check yourself and make sure you are measuring up to what God has commanded you to do.

In a world that tells you boys are girls and girls are boys OR there is no “boy or girl” designation anymore, it is difficult to determine right and wrong without a standard. What ruler do you use to measure things? How do you even hang up a picture frame in your home without a standard guide? There has to be an external standard by which we measure.

Many young people tell me that right and wrong are relative. What’s right for you might be wrong for me and what’s wrong for me might be right for you. This is a scary statement for me. If it’s wrong for me to kill (thou shalt not murder – Commandment six), and you think that’s okay, then you threaten my life. These are not things that are arbitrary and left up to us (society = people) to decide. These are things that God Almighty gives us as rules. We need to use some sort of a plumb line in our lives. God is our Plumb Line and the true standard. In the verse above, His warning is to “his people.” In  Galatians 5:1,16-18 Paul says that  Jesus died in our place, thus fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law. Christ “took us out of Egypt,” he took us out of slavery and death. Today we, as God’s People,  have a responsibility to acknowledge what God has already done for us through redemption in Christ for our sins by making an effort to live a pure and upright life according to the standards He has set for us. We are not to look like the rest of the world, but to be set apart for His holy use.

Romans 12:2 ~ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

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