The Ethics and Respect Connection: Caring and Caring Less

” I could care less!” You’ve probably heard this expression from a frustrated or apathetic coworker many times before. Think about those four little words and their profound meaning.

They not only communicate, “I don’t care,” but they heap on additional disrespect and insult. Saying, “I could care less” or “I couldn’t care less” shows the highest level of disrespect. Although parents and teachers wouldn’t let a child utter those words, we adults tend to let these words slide out too easily in a conflict.

Respect and ethics go hand-in-hand. Without respect, principles of ethics are meaningless. Our orderly culture is based on universal respect for basic ethical principles of right and wrong. Herein lies the importance of caring. Respect shows itself in how you “care” for principles, people, and property around you. To respect is to care and to care shows respect.

Do you take a “caring” or “care less” approach to everyday conflicts at work? The workplace can be a real testing ground for your character because there are many aspects of your job over which you have no control. You don’t choose the people with whom you will spend eight hours of your life each day. You don’t choose the rules you must follow. And seldom do you choose the conflicts that cross your path.

It’s always easier to “care” when you have control and choices. Despite your lack of choices you must buckle-down and “care” anyway. It boils down to caring for the Three P’s…Principles, People, and Property.

Caring about Principles: Unless you are at the top of the corporate ladder, you’re usually on the receiving end of directives, rules, and policies that you don’t necessarily care about. But an ethical person plays by the rules. An ethical person has a fundamental respect for the rule of law that transcends how he or she feels about it at the time. This fundamental respect, or caring for principles greater than your own self-interests, shows maturity of character.

Caring about People: Saying, “I couldn’t care less” in reference to a person shows disrespect and insult in the strongest possible terms. Respect for individuals is not necessarily connected to how much you like them. It’s easy to respect orders from supervisors you like. It’s easy to work with colleagues in opposite cubicles if you’re friends. But when the warm-fuzzies are gone, you have a moral obligation to still show people a certain level of respect.

This doesn’t mean that you simply roll over and never speak up in a conflict. A person of character can face an opponent without losing respect. Your words and actions when the heat is turned up should always remain respectful. You will find it to be an asset to solving the problem. Many ethical problems precipitate when people either don’t listen to each other, ignore the advice of others, or think only about themselves. Self-centeredness clouds your ability to respect others.

Caring about Property: Almost everything you touch at work belongs to someone else. From the office supplies in your desk, to the truck you drive, to the products you sell. It’s all someone else’s property that are entrusted to you to care for. Saying, “I couldn’t care less” about property can be a startling reflection on your level of respect not only for your company’s property but for all the other stuff you come in contact with.

No one likes to see schoolyard graffiti or vandalized parks but these actions show what happens when someone doesn’t respect property that isn’t his or hers. It is a question of respect, responsibility, and trust. These are moral values that are key building blocks to sound character and an orderly, peaceful existence with others.

There are tangible benefits to showing respect. People notice it. When you treat people with respect, you gain respect. If you’re responsible for company resources, you will be trusted with more responsibility. Daily caring and respecting can have a real impact on your career. You will be a refreshing presence that will warm your entire office and will rub off on others.

On a personal level, taking a respectful, caring approach to life’s situations gives you a better perspective, lets you see solutions, and accentuates the positive instead of the negative. It allows you to strengthen one more area of your character. At first, it may be a struggle between your feelings of respect and your obligation to respect. But eventually your daily practice will pay off as you discover the impact of changing your “I could care less” statement to “I do care and I’m going to do something about it.”