Sunday, May 13, 2012

Summer Break

Writing this blog over the last 20 weeks has truly been restorative therapy for me.  I've discovered things about myself that I thought had either been lost long ago, or that had never been truly a part of who I am now.  I hope that many of you have been encouraged and helped as you have chosen to join me on this spiritual journey.  Some have been with me from week one.  Others have joined along the way.  The readership of the blog has increased each week.  Thank you for reading, and telling others about it.

With summer being now upon us, I've decided to take a short summer recess from posting weekly blogs.  Don't worry!   I'm not quitting.  I will be back.  I just can't say whether it will be in a few weeks or several weeks.  I've discovered that I love to express myself by writing, so I'm not going to give that up anytime soon.  I would like to spend the next several weeks, retooling.  When I return, I will either pick up Business Ethics in the Book of Proverbs where I left off, or I may spin off and write more about Living Ethically in Today's World.  I still have about 14 to 16 topics from Proverbs that I would like to cover, but in light of what is happening culturally in our world today, I may choose the new topic.  The premise of that topic would be to address the challenges of ethical living in the 21st century.   So, when I return, I may end up addressing both topics.  Stay tuned!

As I wrap up what I'm calling Part I, I went back and re-read that first blog posted on 1/1/12.  In that blog, I defined what my goals were in writing.  They were: 
  1. To introduce the reader to the richness of the Book of Proverbs and its teachings on Ethical Principles.
  2. To discover principles together that will help us navigate the daily challenges we all face in our culture.
  3. To encourage everyone that even though you may have failed many times to live ethically, whether personally, professionally or both, that you will discover that the Author of the Book used in this blog is someone who offers everyone a “second chance.”
As I look back at those goals, I think I have accomplished them, especially the first two.  I have had several tell me how I've helped make the Book of Proverbs current and fresh again by pointing out its timeless principles.  I've heard from others who've said that particular posts have helped them through some of their own challenges to live ethically.  Even though, I haven't personally heard from anyone how the third point had impacted them personally, I can say from my own experience that it has impacted me.  I'm so grateful that God is giving me this platform to tell others about Him and His Word; that He is the God of Second Chances; that He is a loving and forgiving God; and that He is still One who chooses to use imperfect humans like us to serve Him.

In closing, I would encourage each of you to take time to read a chapter in the Book of Proverbs daily or even weekly.  I would also encourage those who joined our journey along the way and have not read all of the blog posts to visit the archive section on the right side of the blog page.  There, you will find the posted blogs for the past 19 weeks.  I would also ask those who regularly read this blog to consider signing up, so you can start receiving these posts in your email.  This way, you are sure not to miss them when I start back up.  Signing up is simple and secure.  You will not be bombarded with ads or spam, and if you don't like it, you can unsubscribe at any time.  Just put in your email address in the space provided on the blog, hit the submit button, and you will then receive an email confirmation from Google that has a link in the body of the email that you will need to reply to, by simply clicking on the link.  If you do not take this last step, which is clicking on the confirmation link, you will not receive the posts via email.  Please be sure to complete this last step.  This will ensure that you are giving your permission to Google to send you this blog.

Have a great summer everyone.  Please feel free to stay in touch via email, by commenting on today's or past blogs, or by liking and posting on my business ethics page on Facebook.  I would love to hear from you.

May we always strive to lead ethical lives at home, at work and within our own consciousnesses. 

Until next time,
Tony Carroll

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Are Personal Ethics Relative?

Since I started this blog on Business Ethics and the Book of Proverbs, I have always sought to point to the source for ethical principles.  I believe that source is the Bible.  Yet some may say, the Bible is just a book written by men, a collection of fairytales and fables, historically inaccurate and full of lies and half-truths.  If that is indeed the case, then stop reading this blog now.  If there is not a trustworthy, reliable source for ethical truths, then I apologize for wasting your time over the last 18 weeks.  In other words, if there is no Absolute Truth, then who am I to offer anything regarding our responsibility to live more ethical lives?  I would be a sham and a charlatan, a snake-oil salesman in the 21st century.

But, if there is Absolute Truth, then the principles of conduct and ethics have a solid foundation making them relevant for any society, not just a Christian society.  Do you believe in Absolute Truth?

Karl Marx, the father of communism, believed that each society should create its own system of ethics based on its economic status and history, and then the current system of ethics (based on Absolute Truth) would soon give way to a new one where all morals and ethics are relative.
Humanist John Dewey, co-author and signer of the Humanist Manifesto I in 1933 declared, "There is no God and there is no soul. Hence, there are no needs for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is also dead and buried. There is no room for fixed, natural law or moral absolutes." Humanists believe one should do, as one feels is right.  Everything, every moral, every law, every standard is relative in the humanist's world view.  Yet a society with a code of ethics based on no moral absolutes would be a society ruled by anarchy.

Almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)  Jesus established Himself and His teachings, the Bible itself, as Absolute Truth.

So there you have it, Marx, Dewey and Jesus.  Two said truth is relative to your circumstances.  One said He was and is the truth.    Who would you rather believe?  A relativist maintains that everyone should be able to believe and do whatever he wants. Of course, this view is emotionally satisfying, until that person comes home to find his house has been robbed, or someone seeks to hurt him, or someone cuts in front of him in line. No relativist will come home to find his house robbed and say, "Oh, how wonderful that the burglar was able to fulfill his view of reality by robbing my house. Who am I to impose my view of right and wrong on this wonderful burglar?" Quite the contrary, the relativist will feel violated just like anyone else.

The very document upon which this country was founded establishes the reality of Absolute Truth.  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,"  Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776.

I conclude that the answer to the question in the title of today's blog is "no", personal ethics are not relative, but are founded upon Absolute Truth.  With that being said, I would like to share a concise description of an Ethical person from two verses in Proverbs.

Proverbs 19:22-23, "What is desired in a man is kindness, and a poor man is better than a liar.  The fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction.  He will not be visited with evil."

  1. An ethical person is described as being kind.  He strives to live by the Golden Rule, "whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them," (Matthew 7:12).  Said another way, it simply states that we are to treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves.  The golden rule is the ethic of reciprocity.  Twenty one world religions have some version of the golden rule in their teachings.  Being kind to others is based on Absolute Truth and describes the ethical person.
  2. An ethical person is known by their honesty.  It is better to be honest and poor, than be rich and a liar.  Your personal integrity is not to be taken for granted.  Honesty builds trust. 
  3. An ethical person recognizes Absolute Truth and has a respect for its Author.  "Fear" in a Biblical sense means reverential respect.  Regardless of your spiritual preferences or inclinations, living ethically shows your regard for Absolute Truth and respect for its Author.  Said another way, morality is present in humanity.  There is a sense of right and wrong in the heart of every person.  Those who go deeper and profess faith in God are able to develop an even more personal relationship with Him.
  4. An ethical person is described as someone who is satisfied.  There is a contentment and security that governs the life of person that lives honorably.  Contentment is elusive to the person who has not truly recognized his responsibility to fill the spiritual vacuum in their life and insist on living their lives without personal faith in God.
A personal code of ethics is based on Absolute Truth.  When your personal ethics have a foundation, then your life will manifest kindness, honesty, reverence and contentment.  What are you basing your own personal ethics on?  What are they founded upon? 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Ethics of Listening

I have conducted a number of Sales and Customer Service training classes over the years.  I always spend one or more sessions on the topic "The Art of Listening."  I feel strongly about the importance of listening, if one is to excel in sales and customer service, it is imperative that they learn how to listen.  People want to be heard.  They want to know they are being listened too.

Have you ever thought that listening is a matter of ethics?  Ethics is defined as "principles of conduct; a set of moral principles governing an individual or a group."  Having the appropriate conduct by actively listening makes it an ethical matter.

Let's consider these verses from Proverbs on the subject.

Proverbs 18:13, "He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him."

Proverbs 18:2, "A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart."

How you ever been guilty of not hearing what the other person is saying, because you are too busy working on your answer.  When we do that, we are telling the other person, "what you are saying is not as important as what I have to say is."  Ouch!  That sounds pretty self-centered and arrogant, doesn't it?

Let's consider it first in the arena of public speaking.  I have done my share of public speaking, and have observed the listening behavior by people in the audience.  I've seen it range from some in the audience being absorbed, engrossed and engaged in what I was saying by actively listening to being, (to put it mildly), just plain rude by their demonstrative actions of not listening, whether talking while I'm speaking, checking their phone, playing with their hair, looking around or being so disinterested, they sleep.  Let me offer this disclaimer about sleeping while someone speaks.  Sometimes people sleep due to health, personal or family reasons or issues.  I'm not talking about that type of sleeper.  I'm talking about the one who you see scrunching down in their seat, crossing their arms, tilting their head and sleeping.  They deliberately fall to sleep.  Have you ever thought that people who deliberately do not listen to the person speaking as being a form of unethical behavior?

Since the majority of you probably have never spoken to a group publicly, what about one-on-one conversations, or with two or three, or around a conference table, or in a small room setting?  Isn't it the appropriate ethical thing for the person to listen to what you are saying?  Of course it is.

Let's reverse roles now.  When you sit in a group where someone is speaking, how ethically do you listen?  What about when your spouse, your children, your boss, a co-worker or a group of co-workers speak, do you really listen?

Gil Stern, a college professor, regularly gives this listening question on his exams with new students.  He describes a situation in which a speaker is talking about some controversial subject and how most of the class is listening attentively and a couple of audience members even change their position on the topic, due to the speech.  He also says that two members of the audience are so put off by the speech; they pass notes back and forth, the entire time of the speech.
He then ask the students, via multiple choice, which answer is correct when it comes to ethical listening. 
  1. There are no ethical responsibilities of the listeners.
  2. Only those who were persuaded to the speaker's side acted ethically.
  3. The two students who passed notes back and forth acted unethically.
  4. Since the two students who passed notes back and forth did not talk during the speech, they   were not engaged in unethical listening practices.
He said that usually about half of the class gets it wrong.  The correct answer he was looking for was number three, the choice that says the students engaged in note passing acted unethically. Ethical listening includes being courteous and attentive. You do not have to agree with what the speaker is saying, but you should not tune out. If you listen and follow the arguments, you may find that you change your position. You may also find that your original position becomes strengthened. In either event, a speaker has put time and effort into a speech and deserves to have the entire audience paying attention. (Yahoo Voices 6/11/07)

Now let's put that same scenario on a personal level in our normal daily conversation.  
  1. To say there is no ethical responsibility, whether you listen or not, is wrong.   Look again at Proverbs 18:13
  2. When you turn people off like turning off the radio, because you disagree with them, is also wrong.  Let them speak and be courteous by  listening.  You may still disagree with them, when they are finished, but while they are speaking, give them your attention.
  3. To tune out the person speaking to you, so you can formulate an answer is also wrong.  Read Proverbs 18:2, again.
How can we become better listeners whether with an audience or with one person?
  1. Be receptive by keeping an open mind.
  2. Be non-judgmental because judgment will limit our listening.
  3. Be observant. People “speak” in ways other than words. Body language and demeanor can be very revealing.
  4. Search for meaning beyond words and ask ourselves the question “What is the speaker really saying?”
  5. Have empathy and try to understand the background, the life conditions and possible motivation of the speaker.
In closing, I would like for us to consider another verse from Proverbs that really shows what can happen, when we fail to listen.  Have you ever been around someone in a group setting who start saying something, telling a story, etc., but they trail off and never finish what they were saying?  Why did they do that?  They could tell no one was listening.  Has that happened to you?  How did that make you feel?  Not practicing ethical listening, can have far reaching consequences.

Proverbs 18:19, "A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle."

Listening is a strategic part of communication.  Without it, we can offend and damage relationships. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How do you Measure Success?

There is a ton of information on the World Wide Web on this topic.  If you do a Google search on this question, you will discover as I did, 33.5 million references to this subject.  That's a lot.  Just to see if most of these referenced our question, I started scrolling through the pages.  I stopped at page 50.  Guess what?  Google was still showing me links to websites, blogs, articles and lectures on this question even on page 50 of my search results.  I'm sure it would have kept going after 50, but I stopped there.
Why so much?  I think almost everyone wants to be a success in life.  We only have one shot at this life, and most want to leave their mark; their legacy that shows they were successful.

Since so many have already spoken and written on this topic, is there anything else that I can add, especially with regards to how this relates to our topic of Business Ethics?  I'm sure that I will not add anything that hasn't been said before, probably many times before, but I think it wouldn't hurt to look at it anew.  My hope is that in some small way, I can shine a little light by means of a thought, a word, a challenge like I'm sharing in the blog this week and as I have in previous weeks that will assist you as you navigate your journey in discovering how to be successful, not only in business but also in life.

Success, how do you measure it?  Do you look simply at those with money, and call them a success?  Is that what success means to you personally?
If your business and career efforts are providing you with monetary gain, but you don’t enjoy what you do, can this really be called success?  We all know people that have and make lots of money, but their lives are harried, stressed and frankly, pretty miserable.  Pursuit of the almighty dollar can split our families, destroy our health and even take our lives.

I think there is a much calmer, more contented, and surer way of measuring success.
Proverbs 16:8, "Better is a little with righteousness, than vast revenues without justice."

The verse shows us the first way we can measure success.  Money, whether it be a little, or even a lot, if it is gained honestly, ethically and with integrity is how you measure success.  I'm sure in the eyes of many; Bernie Madoff was successful, before his Ponzi scheme became public.  He was rolling in the money, but he had gotten it dishonestly.  Today, he is in jail.  His life is a failure.
I fear that in our culture today, fewer and fewer are seeing that living ethically responsible lives at home, at work and inwardly within our own consciences no longer factors into how we measure success, but according to Proverbs 16:8, it still does.  In doing research, I came across the "Top Ten Traits of Highly Successful People."  Do you know what was glaringly absent from that list?  You probably guessed it; it was doing business ethically.  At the end of the day, how we live and conduct ourselves is what matters.  Putting the verse in my words, to me it says, "It's better to be poor and ethical, than to be rich and dishonest."

Proverbs 16:16, "How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver."

What is your main pursuit in life?  Is it to make money?  I think this verse shows us the 2nd way we can measure success.  It is saying that getting wisdom and understanding is "much better" than getting gold and silver.  Gaining wisdom is more valuable than riches.  Do you buy that?  This verse ties in with our previous verse.  How?  When your pursuit in life is wisdom and understanding, your life will be more content, even if you don't have a lot of material possessions, because of the wisdom and understanding gained, you will earn what you have ethically.  Your life will be more satisfied.  See how it fits together?
Where do we get this wisdom and understanding?  You can read great books, and study the ancient philosophers.  There is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from that, but you would still be ignoring the one Book that can give you that wisdom and understanding.  I'm referring to the Bible.  It is still the best source for wisdom and understanding.
I read recently that the American Bible Society contracted the Barna Research Group to conduct a survey to find out the "State of the Bible in 2012".  What they found was that still an overwhelming majority considers the Bible to be sacred literature, yet what the research discovered was that people just aren't reading it.  Fox News quotes Lamar Vest, President and CEO of ABS when asked about the results of the survey.  He said, "There are probably five Bibles on every shelf in American homes. Americans buy the Bibles, they debate the Bible, they love the Bible... they just don't read the Bible."  If we pursued wisdom and understanding as hard as we did money, that statement would not be true, but unfortunately, it is.  Those who claim to be Christian and those who don't are both equally guilty of not reading it, even though most Americans still revere it as God's Word.

Proverbs 16:19, "Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud."

This verse shows us the 3rd way we can measure success.  Humility is to be desired over pride.  Dividing the spoil speaks of gain gotten dishonestly or unethically.  Living a simple life with others of like mind will allow us to achieve far greater success than living a life that is caught up in the pursuit of gain in this dog-eat-dog world.  Capitalism is one of the things that has made this country great, but it can also be brutal and cut-throat.  It can suck the life out of those who are caught up in it, who have allowed the pursuit to become more important than living a life of integrity.

Did you notice the same key word in all 3 verses?  It was the word "better".  Success is measured by our integrity in how we make money, by what we desire more than making money, and by how we live our life in spite of the business philosophy of many in this dog-eat-dog world.

When we think about success, invariably we think of individuals; people that we think of as successful.  It's normal.  It's natural.  Who do you have on your list as examples of success?  Steve Jobs?  Michael Jordan?  Tom Hanks?  Mother Teresa?  In light of our verses today, I got to thinking about people who I consider to be successful, and my mind went to an uncle and aunt, my Dad's sister and her husband.  The last time I saw them was 3 years ago.  Even though it had been well over 20 years since I had seen them before that, they not only looked exactly as they did back then, but most importantly, and why I think of them as a success, they were still living their lives the way I've always known them; humble, godly and honest.  Today, they are in their mid-70's, maybe older.  Their Godly example that I saw 3 years ago is exactly how I remember them 20 years before that, and that is exactly how I saw them when they and their two boys would visit my Grandparents during my years growing up.  They lived in Michigan and would come for visits in Tennessee, practically every year.  What stood out to me from a small child to an adult pushing 60, has not changed, wavered or diminished.  That, in my opinion, is how you measure success. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How to Handle Confrontations Ethically

The topic last week was about making the right associations.  We saw how if left unchecked, "bad company corrupts good ethics".  In describing what we should do when we are in a setting whether it is a conversation with a group in the office, with friends in a social setting, or even around relatives or neighbors, when you know it is time that you should excuse yourself, I said you should always avoid group confrontations.  This week, we want to dig deeper into this topic of confrontations, but this week, we are going to put the 'shoe on the other foot', so to speak, and explore how we should handle those times when "we" are confronted by others, publicly or privately.

The definition of confrontation is to come face-to-face with; stand in front of; an open conflict of opposing ideas.  It was derived from two Latin words, "com" which means together and "frons" which refers to the forehead, so in other words, when you hear that confrontations are best described as two people "butting heads", and that's a pretty accurate description.

Unfortunately in today's society where people have no "absolute truth" to guide them, no "moral compass" to direct them, some of the advice today on handling confrontations only leads to more confrontation.  You've heard some of these, I'm sure.

"I don't get mad; I get even."

"Your freedom ends, where my nose begins."

"Stand your ground."  (That's not really working out to well for Florida right now, is it?)

"The natural human instinct is to defend one's self."

"If all else fails, the nose is a good place to hit first which can temporarily blind them with tears."

Have you ever noticed what it does to you physically when you are confronted?  You start to shake; you lose control of your voice; it becomes quivery, and the words don't flow properly from your lips; your thoughts become disjointed.  What causes that?  These are signs of confrontation jitters.  Everyone experiences them to one degree or another. This is the 'flight or fight' syndrome kicking in and it pumps adrenaline throughout your body in readiness to fight or run.  It is your bodies' mechanism for getting prepared to do one or the other.

When you are in that state, for most people your maturity, common sense and restraint usually kick in, and you are determined not to allow someone to take the keys of your self-control, your emotions, your feelings.  You work hard not to get defensive and yell back at them.  You take deep breaths and tell yourself over and over that you are not going to let this person control me.  The angrier the other person gets, the more reserved and calm you become.  When the confronter realizes they cannot break you, or get under your skin, or achieve their desired reaction, they will usually give up.  You win.  You are the much stronger person because of how you did not react.

Why then, do you feel rotten on the inside, when you were able to manage a controlled reaction like that?  You lie awake at night, replaying the confrontation in your mind over and over.  You won, but you really feel like you lost.  You start thinking that the flight syndrome kicked in and was the reason you handled it the calm way that you did.  This can sometimes lead some to have the exact opposite reaction the next time it happens.  The 'fight' syndrome takes over, and you decide you are not going to take it anymore, and you "butt heads" with your adversary.  Most times it never results in physical blows, but it is a fight nevertheless.  You feel proud that you stood your ground.  You went toe-to-toe with them.  You feel you won the argument.  Guess what?  Most of the time your reaction after things simmer down will be the same as it would be if you had calmly, peacefully resolved it.  You will still think about it, for days or even years.  You replay it over and over in your mind.  The reality starts sinking in.  You didn't win.  You lost.  You lost a friend, a relationship, a job.

Without a solid foundation, a source of truth that gives you principles for handling these confrontations ethically, your reaction may be more like the latter than the former, or a combination of both.  Sometimes controlled; sometimes out of control.
Let's look briefly at some verses from Proverbs our source book for Business Ethics on how to handle confrontations ethically.

Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

Proverbs 16:32, "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city."

Proverbs 17:14, "The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts."

Proverbs 20:3, "It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel."

First of all, when confronted, answer softly or gently.  I like how Jesus handled confrontations.  When the religious leaders asked him questions in an aggressive, confrontational manner, do you know how He answered them?  He didn't argue with them, or rebuke them.  He answered their questions with a question, in a patient, loving, calm manner.  When you answer calmly and gently, it diffuses anger.  Harsh words have the opposite effect
Secondly, when confronted, answer with total self-control.  Do not answer with anger.  Do not blow your top.  Do not lose your temper.  Nothing is gained with that type of reaction.  When you learn to control your anger in confrontations, Proverbs 16:32 says you are better than a warrior that can take a city.

Lastly, even though you are being verbally confronted, you can stop it, by "dropping the matter".  Stop it while the verbal assault is more like a trickling stream of water.  When you wait, or argue back, that trickle can become a raging river.  Stopping an argument, a confrontation, before it gains a foothold, is a mark of honor.  It is the mark of a person of integrity, a person who lives his life ethically.

Footnote:  I would like to thank everyone who reads this blog.  The audience continues to grow each week.  Every week there are more readers than the previous week.  It is reaching people not just locally, but also in other states and in other countries.  Beyond the friends and family living in other states who read it regularly, there are also people from Texas, South Dakota, Russia, Germany, France, Latvia, Tunisia and India who have discovered it.  My prayer is that it is helping people live more ethical lives.  I would invite you to leave comments, 'like it' on Facebook, sign up to receive it via email and/or repost it within your social media circles.  Leaving a brief comment, may help someone out there who is reading and has questions, but is reluctant to comment since right now, very few do.  Thanks for helping me spread the word.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How Associations can Affect our Ethics

I would like to start with a confession.  Today's topic is difficult.  I mean, really difficult.  Not that the others haven't been; it's just that today's challenge taken to the extreme by the actions we take, may cause more harm than any good that would come if we did nothing.
Have you ever been around a group of co-workers, neighbors, friends, family, or even on-line with Facebook friends who are in the midst of what you would consider an inappropriate conversation or Facebook posts?  How do you react to it?  In my opinion, an extreme reaction would be to abruptly turn and leave, or even worse, taking it on yourself to try and correct the entire group.  If you overreact either way, you are likely to be labeled "holier than thou", "goody two shoes" or worse.  Or, do you continue the associations and continue to do nothing, allowing your ethical standards to be compromised?  What should you do when faced with those situations that are offensive to you, or you deem to be inappropriate?

Let's start by looking at a verse from the New Testament book of I Corinthians.  It helps to lay the foundation for today's topic.  We want to first look at why we sometimes compromise our Ethical Standards.  Next, I want us to look at principles from the Book of Proverbs on how to develop the right associations with people to keep us from compromising our Ethics.  Lastly, I want to see how we can avoid the damage caused if we overreact.

I Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be misled:  bad company corrupts good character." (NIV, ©1984)

In other translations, the word "character" is changed to morals or manners, so the verse is saying that, "bad company corrupts good morals or bad company corrupts good manners."  To understand that morals, manners and character are referring to the same thing, we should look at the original word used when the text was first written in Greek.  The Greek word is "ethos".  For you that are regular readers of this blog, you probably already know the English translation of the Greek word ethos.  It is the word Ethics.  If we use the English equivalent of the original Greek word, the verse is saying that "bad company corrupts good ethics."  That helps answer our first point as to why we sometimes or maybe often compromise our Ethics.  It is caused by how we are influenced by the company we keep.

Let's now consider these verses on why and how we should develop the right associations from the Book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 12:26, "The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray."

Proverbs 13:20, "He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed."

Proverbs 20:19, "He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets:  therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips."

Proverbs 24:1-2, "Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their heart devises violence, and their lips talk of troublemaking."

The first way to go about developing the right associations is to "choose your friends carefully."  We've already seen what happens when we choose the wrong associations; it will ultimately deteriorate your ethical principles.  Who are your friends, your business associates, and the people you hang around with?  Make sure you choose your associations carefully.

A good group to choose your associations from is people who are characterized as "wise men".  Hang around with people who are smarter, of sounder moral character and those who are wiser, and guess what?   It will start rubbing off on you.  Hanging with people of wisdom will expand you intellectually, challenge you to be better morally and will help you grow not just in knowledge, but in wisdom also.

The next verse in our texts from Proverbs tells us how to spot the kind of person we should not have a deep association with.  Watch out for people who always want to flatter you.  People like this usually talk too much.  They get so preoccupied praising you and others that they can easily start revealing confidential things that you or others have shared with them.
Notice the last group to avoid; those classified as evil men.  Isn't it ironic that we too often are envious of those who are evil or wicked?  Watch out for their scheming, troublemaking ways.  Bad company will corrupt good ethics.

Finally, when we recognize the bad company, those that will corrupt us, lead us astray, and ultimately could destroy us, how do we react to their conversations, avoid their associations, unfriend them on Facebook and yet still maintain a working, friend, or family relationship with them without offending them?

  1. Avoid Group Confrontations - If you walk up on, or are involved with a discussion in a group setting that you find inappropriate, that is not the time to take a stand and abruptly walkaway or say something.  You will lose in that situation.  What would be gained?  Absolutely nothing.  If you do, try having a follow up conversation at a later time when you've offended people in a setting like this; you will discover how damaging your response was. The best approach is to sit politely and find an opportunity when you can to quietly excuse yourself.
  2. Make the Right Connections - As the verse says, choose your friends carefully. 
  3. Have a Private Conversation - If you reach a point when you feel you must say something to someone you know is causing you to compromise your ethics, speak with them privately about it.  Don't judge them for their behavior.  Remember it may be wrong only in your eyes.  Be cordial and compassionate when you speak.  When said appropriately, you should still be able to be friends, and you will oftentimes be respected even more for clearly defining your convictions.
Was I able to convey why this topic was so difficult for me?  As clearly as bad company corrupts good ethics, choosing to "straighten out people" who behave inappropriately causes damage too.  Sometimes that kind of damage is irrevocable.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Depression in the Workplace

I'm not a psychologist or psychotherapist.  I don't claim to be one.  I'm just a guy seeking to gain a rational perspective on business ethics using the Book of Proverbs as my guide.  As the title of today's blog indicates, I am going to take a closer look at depression and how it relates to and can sometimes conflict with sound moral principles or ethical behaviors not only at work, but in our homes with the people we love and even our personal lives.

Consider some of these statistics on Depression gleaned from the National Institutes of Health, the Depression Statistics website, the Uplift Program website and the Psychology Today website.
  • Approximately 22% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of depression at any given time.  Of that number 26% are female, and 12 % are male.  The reason some think that the number for men is lower is because of their tendency to try and hide it more.  Almost every person will experience depression at some point in their lives.
  • Depression unresolved/untreated can lead to major depressive disorders, also known as clinical depression.  This type of depression now affects 10% of the U.S. population.  Major or clinical depression is a disorder, not a disease. That means that - as understood at present - it has symptoms of disrupted functionality, rather than physical signs, like a rash or a bruise. Major depression is diagnosed when someone has at least five symptoms of depression lasting at least two weeks. These symptoms include:
  1. Changes to one’s emotions, including pervasive sadness and generally depressed mood
  2. Changes to one’s view of the future, including pessimism and hopelessness
  3. Changes to one’s normal habits, including loss of appetite and insomnia, as well as withdrawal from normal activities and/or a loss of pleasure in them
  4. Changes to one’s self-image, including feelings of helplessness, guilt, worthlessness, and/or self-hatred
  5. Feeling fatigued or like one has no energy
  6. Possible increases in sensitivity including agitation, irritability, and restlessness
  7. Changes to one’s mental state, including mental confusion, sluggishness, and difficulty making decisions
  8. Thoughts of suicide and/or suicide attempts

  • Clinical depression has become one of America's most costly illnesses. Left untreated, depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the US economy, costing over $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs. Depression tends to affect people in their prime working years and may last a lifetime if untreated.
  • Depression will be the second largest killer of Americans after heart disease by 2020, while studies now show depression is a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease already.
  • 80% of people who see the Doctor are depressed.  Studies are increasingly linking more illnesses to depression, including: osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer, eye disease and back pain.

I will stop here with the numbers, but they should be alarming to anyone.  If anyone reading this can identify with many of the symptoms of major depression outlined above, please seek professional help, now.

How does all this relate to business ethics?

Look again at the point about depression's cost to businesses for absenteeism and lost productivity.  Lost productivity accounts for most of that amount, and refers not just to absenteeism, but something called presenteeism.  This is a term for people with depression that show up for work but are not functioning anywhere close to full capacity.  They fail to return phone calls, they produce poor-quality work, they miss deadlines, they are not following up with customers, they are paralyzed with indecision, they start coming in late and/or leaving early, they begin having difficulty getting along with co-workers and are withdrawing from the social environment at work.

Please refer back to the blog on "The Ethics of Work" if you still can't see the connection between the effects of depression on ethical principles.   When you start functioning like the patterns described above, if left unchecked and unresolved, you may also start making very compromising and destructive choices in your relationship with your spouse, your children, and your co-workers.  Left unresolved, you may start abusing drugs, alcohol, sex or gambling.  Depression unresolved will eventually lead you on a downward spiral that will destroy your integrity and character, which in turn will cause even more depression.  It's a vicious cycle.

Consider these verses from Proverbs.

Proverbs 12:25, "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad."

Proverbs 15:13, "A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken."

Proverbs 17:22, "A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones."

Notice the depression symptoms outlined in these verses:
  •  Anxiety
  •  Sorrow
  •  Brokenness
Do you see the downward progression?  It starts with anxiety.  We can become anxious and have anxiety over so many things.  We worry about job security, finances, retirement.  You name it; most of us will figure out a way to worry about it.  We have anxiety over relationships, our children, our in-laws, our neighbors, our boss, our employees, and even our relationship with God.  That anxiety will cause depression.

Next is sorrow, or sorrow of the heart, which is a by-product or attribute that comes with depression.  Depressed people are usually very sad.  They may cry a lot.  They have no joy.  When depression leads to sorrow, self-abuse will follow.  You can abuse not only alcohol and prescription or illegal drugs, but also food can become an addition.  Sex can become an addition through illicit hetero or homosexual affairs or even pornography.  None of these things will ever really help a sorrowful heart.  They usually lead to the last word these verses use to describe depression, which is brokenness.

Brokenness, or broken spirit, follows sorrow.  This level of depression is when depression has entered the danger zone.  At this stage, when you feel totally defeated, lost, worthless, destroyed, don't wait another moment, get help.

Do you see yourself at one of these stages, right now?  If you do, I wish I could tell you there was an instantaneous cure, a magical pill, but there isn't one.  What, you say?  Can't God give that instantaneous cure?  He can, and I personally believe that He wants too for anyone going through depression.  The problem is not with God, but with the level of our own depression, receptiveness, understanding or even faith.  It would be disingenuous of me to close by telling you just to Trust God, or just believe, and it will all be okay.  Charlatans that propagate that can easily make depressed people even more depressed.

My hope for anyone who may be at one of these stages of depression is that you will find a path, a roadmap, a plan that can lead you to brighter, healthier and happier days.  I believe this can help, but it may take time, so hang in there.

Proverbs 16:20, "He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he."
  1. Cultivate good healthy relationships with spouses, co-workers or solid social networks.  Find associations at work that will give "a good word", stimulating, encouraging and uplifting conversations that make the heart glad.  See Prov. 12:25 above.
  2. With the help of a physician, therapist, support group or religious counselor, find out what is causing your depression and deal with the sources of anxiety that caused it.  
  3. Cultivate a proper balance of diet and exercise.  Nothing clears cluttered minds like a little exercise and a good nutritional diet.
  4. Develop spiritual beliefs that include prayer, meditation, and fellowship with likeminded people who also have a strong belief in the value of serving their fellow man.  Our last verse says that "whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he."   This will give your life purpose.  Purpose will give you greater joy, and that new found joy will result in a merry heart that "does good, like a medicine."