What Are You Worth? Ethics and Human Value

The most difficult kind of ethical situation is one where you feel angry and helpless as a result of someone else’s misdeeds or manipulation. You didn’t ask to be pushed around, but you are. One minute you’re minding your own business and the next minute you’re being coerced to lie and bullied by someone else.

In any conflict that involves the unethical act of one person toward another, the helpless one asks the question: How can someone treat another person like that? You just shake your head and shudder at what’s going on in the mind of that person. It’s the same question a kindergartener asks about the playground bully. How can a person be so mean to someone else? Doesn’t he have any feelings?

On the other side, maybe you’ve found yourself in the position of forcing someone else to do something unethical. What were you thinking?

Let’s go inside the mind of the unscrupulous harasser. You can psychoanalyze his inner rage, insecurities, past negative experiences or plain ignorance and come up with all sorts of theories as to what’s behind his behavior. But put those issues aside for a moment and imagine how he perceives the other people in his life. How does he view people around him? How can he treat people so badly and sleep well at night?

These questions lead us to the fundamental principle of human value. The value you place on certain individuals will show in your behavior toward them. It’s one of those principles in life that if not brought into focus occasionally, will cease to exist in your consciousness.

On the most fundamental level, you must believe that humans have intrinsic value. You are valuable. Every human being walking the planet is valuable.

If this is true, then all humans are entitled to a certain level of respect. Our orderly culture is based on the principle that people are valuable and deserve rights, protection, and respect. In your life, how you value other people will show itself in your behavior toward them. If you value something (even a little) you don’t break it, abuse it, or throw it away. Only when you decide that it is worthless and without value, do you toss it out.

In the world of business ethics, failing to see the value of other people is central to bullying, coercion, and harassment. It’s easy to verbally abuse someone you see as worthless and beneath you. It’s easy to sexually harass someone you perceive is an inanimate object without feelings. And for those of us who are not regular bullies or harassers, its much easier for us to value people we like over those we don’t. This is where we get into trouble. Unfortunately, most of us are not blessed to work in a conflict-free, environment.

It is a given that you will cross paths with people you don’t like. You will find yourself supervised by them, working next to them, or dealing with them on the other side of the counter. Because of your dislike or conflict, your natural reaction might be to temporarily dehumanize them and treat them accordingly. Before you do it, stop and think about the real human being behind the ugly mask that you’ve painted on them.

That person has feelings, hopes and dreams. Just like you, he or she woke-up this morning, had breakfast, and left for work hoping for a good day. In the midst of your conflict, that person standing in front of you is not a robot or a piece of furniture but a living, breathing, human being with VALUE. He or she is one who deserves respect and kindness. Successful people don’t have to resort to treating people badly to get what they want.

This is a powerful principle for success in relationships and business. Executives who understand the value of every person they employ will have successful companies. Bosses who understand this will have strong, loyal employees. Workers who understand this will make friends, gain respect from others, and see their level of conflict reduced. Usually, devaluing someone else in the midst of a conflict makes things worse not better.

In the stressful world of business and ethics, don’t neglect to see the human value in your decisions and actions. Take a moment to see the person behind the issue. Let your words and actions show a fundamental respect for the human value of others. By the same measure, others will value you. You will show yourself to be the valuable asset that you really are.