First Officer Spock had it easy. The Vulcan from Star Trek didn’t have to deal with the ethical decision-making process as we do. He operated in the realm of logic and reason. Imagine a world where ethical dilemmas were judged purely on fact and logic without the influence of feelings or emotions. It might make for a cold-hearted world but maybe Spock was on to something?
We non-Vulcans interpret the world and the events around us almost exclusively through feelings. The good, the bad, and the ugly. All are interpreted in the affective area of our minds. You could say that we sometimes “feel” too much.
Let’s face it, there are times when we “feel” more ethical than other times. Some days we’re on top of the world and other time we feel like the world is on top of us. Our goal in making sense of ethical situations is to come down somewhere in the middle – where we maintain a healthy balance between logic and feelings in an ethical crisis.
First, ethics is not just a “feeling.” You may feel strongly about an ethical topic, but those feelings are rooted in a principle somewhere. Ethics is a system of right and wrong based on moral absolutes. Absolutes are absolute. There’s not a lot of room for feelings. In fact, the more you rely on feelings the more conflict you’ll have following these absolute principles. Herein lies the problem: how can emotional creatures like us live in a world of moral absolutes?
Think about the messages you hear from our culture and media about feelings. “Trust in your feelings.” “Follow your heart.” “Do what you think is right.” When someone cuts you off on the freeway, what does your heart tell you to do? If you’re like most people, your heart (at that moment) tells you to return the favor and add a little something extra to make you “feel” better. Hardly something Spock would approve of. The fact is, following your heart and doing what you feel is right may steer you in the wrong direction.
To illustrate this, imagine a world where everyone followed his or her heart. Rather than a world of peace, harmony, and self-satisfaction, there would be utter chaos and you would be clamoring to catch the first starship to Spockís home planet. But here on Earth, we have the problem of balancing how we feel about a situation and following the moral absolute behind it.
In facing an ethical dilemma, first learn to size-up the situation on the basis of the facts you know. Second, look hard beneath the surface to discover the moral absolutes that apply. Count the costs. This where the Spock-like analytical process takes place. With this logical piece out of way you can THEN move on to the “feeling” part. Now, go ahead and trust in your heart. Search deep inside listen to your gut feelings about the situation. You need to do this especially if there’s no clear-cut right or wrong answer to the ethical problem. This is what humans do best and it’s time to make it work to our advantage, but the problem is that most of us do these steps in the wrong order. Unfortunately we react emotionally and then are stuck defending our position to the end.
Being able to make this process work shows a high level of maturity, courage, and intelligence. Truly brilliant leaders have become masters of balancing logic, principles, and emotion. Employees who do this rise to the top of their profession. The world is full of people who live from day-to-day on feelings and not convictions. Anyone can wake-up in the morning and go through life making easy choices based on what feels good.
Realizing your full potential is not necessarily about what makes you feel good today, but what will sustain your work and life for the years to come. Feelings may be for today but principles will see you through tomorrow. Being a bit Vulcan (pointy ears and all) certainly might help with daily ethical decisions, but thriving in your job requires a healthy balance between managing your emotions and basing them on ethical principles. Of course, we could certainly use a lot more Vulcans on the freeway.