In order to live together successfully, we humans have created fairly intricate systems of shared values, delineating between what is considered to be 'right' and 'wrong'. These systems are built upon formal systems of governance (laws and legislation) but also more informal social, religious and familial beliefs that govern our behaviour. Despite this though, we each hold within us our own personal compass that helps direct our actions and choices. It is relatively easy for us to make the 'right' choices and decisions in the easy times, but it is more challenging for us to sometimes determine what the 'right' decisions are in more difficult and complicated situations. It's in these moments that we rely upon our compass to guide us.
"Who are you when no one's looking?"Generally, we tend to only consider the effectiveness of our Moral Compass when we have lost our bearings, when we find that we have made poor ethical decisions. We therefore struggle with finding and resetting our Compass as a means of finding our way back from or out of the situation that poor decisions and choices have put us in.
It makes far more sense though to ensure that we have clarity over our values, over what defines 'right' and 'wrong' for us, long before we find ourselves needing them. Keeping our compass dusted off and within easy reach will make those difficult decisions clearer. They may not always prove to be the 'easy' choice, but they should always be the clearer choice. Research supports this, finding that those with a clear, conscious set of values and morals tend to make more honest and ethical choices, even when no one would know otherwise.
Just how can we strengthen our ethical muscles and get our compass working? Consider any of the following...
Listen to your Inner Voice.
We all have an inner voice that highlights right from wrong for us. It speaks up and tells us when it doesn't think something is a good idea, but we tend to downplay it. We need to learn to listen to that voice though, to lend credence to our 'gut' reactions. These instinctive reactions to people and situations are still hardwired into our brains from generations ago when poor decisions likely meant the difference between life and death. However, we tend to rationalize away these feelings, overlaying the 'voice' with 'reasons' why it is wrong or why you should do other than it is saying. The voice is there for a reason and is likely more in touch with your morals than you are in that moment. Listen.
Don't be a Lemming.
Just because others around you are doing 'it', it does not justify your following suit. Others engaging in behaviour you know to be wrong does not magically make it right. Follow your compass direction, not someone else's!
When face with an ethical dilemma take the time you need to make a decision you're going to be comfortable living with. If someone is pressuring you to make a decision NOW, flags should raise and your brakes should go on. They are likely pressuring you to do something they know to be wrong but are pushing you to decide before you too determine it would be a poor choice.
How would you feel if everyone knew?
If you are horrified by the thought of anyone knowing about a particular choice, then it likely isn't a choice that fits well with your morals and values. If you don't want anyone to 'know' then it is extremely likely that you are crossing a moral line somewhere in that decision.
Consider your Reputation and Resume
Our reputation is built upon the actions we take, the decisions we make. If the choices you are making are not ones you would want highlighted on your resume then you are likely doing serious damage to your reputation and employability.
All of our decisions have an impact; upon others and upon ourselves. Having a strong moral compass simply means that we have clarity over what is important to us. Using this as criteria in our decision making allows us to ensure we make decisions we will feel more comfortable living with, providing us with fewer regrets down the road.