Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category


We are in a situation where those who are paying attention are terrified and those who are not are resistant to change and even in denial about what the future holds. As humans it is very hard to see something that is not within your experience. That is why they say, “You can only teach what people already know.” That does not mean that what cannot be seen is not real, only that the framework for seeing and understanding the new and extraordinary has not yet been built.

When a young child is found wandering in the street, we yank it out of the street, we don’t engage on a program to teach it about cars and the effect of an impact. You can’t do this with adults, especially adults who think: they already know what they need to know; that they are right; that they are too embarrassed to admit that they don’t know. Add to that the timetable for change that the planet has versus the timetable it takes to educate learning phobic adults, and you have some understanding of the issues we face.

I’m part of the ‘yes we can’ crowd and I’ve spent years learning the subtleties of natural systems, so I have some grasp on the crisis we are facing, enough to be very daunted by the task at hand. I vacillate between committed enthusiasm and dejected despair. The task of rebalancing the planets natural systems so that we can return to the regular and comfortable environment we have lived in for the past 65,000 years, appears to be impossible now. It still appears that we may have the ability to slow down the shift and re-balance those systems at a slightly higher temperature range than we have experienced in the past. This is a hope and desire, I’m not sure exactly how real it is, but assuming that we can do that, the implications for the rest of the life on this planet is not at all clear.

Most life forms (us included) live within a fairly narrow temperature range. We are already seeing the migration of birds and animals and in a few cases plants toward the cooler regions of the globe. There are now robins in the arctic. The Eskimos do not have a name for the bird. We may be looking at a decimation of life at the equator as life pushes toward the polar-regions. The impacts on farming and our ability to produce enough food are at particular risk. What to do?

As Dylan Thomas said, I do not expect to ‘go gently into that good night’ but to rage, rage on. It is to that end that I write this book.

Systems thinking is the ability to see patterns, the dynamics formed by the interaction of wholes with each other. We are trained to see only parts and pieces of things. We see ourselves as separate and distinct objects with little or no connection to anything else. Yet we claim to be ‘all one’ and we claim to be a part of a species (humanity) that appear to have some similarities between all of the various objects we call human. We float in and out of wholes and parts when we think about people, or the environment, but for the most part it is pieces we pay attention to. This is very misleading. Because we do not see connections, dynamics or patterns, we are often surprised by our experiences. There is no place where that is truer than in the realm of ethics and values.

What I see most needed at this time in our existence is a love of Life. We are so caught up in fear, or in trying to ‘get it right’ or in ‘success’ that we have forgotten the why. Why are we here? Why do we even care about anything? It seems to me that everything is screaming for love. Everything is seeking love, but we are looking in all the wrong places.

When I look at how we have managed to understand ethics and morality, most of our approaches have been anchored in fear. Fear of others, fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of punishment, fear of appearing silly or unimportant or…. You cannot be in fear and still love Life. In fear you rationalize behavior under the pretext of becoming ‘safe.’ Love is letting go of fear. Christ very famously said, “You can’t serve two masters” and that is true. We cannot serve the ‘master’ of fear and still serve the ‘master’ of love. The only ethic that serves love of Life is the same ethic that nature uses to develop more and more complex life. It is an ethic that makes more important the relationships between life forms, than the life of the individual life forms themselves. The health of the whole is more important than any small part or piece. It is through the health of the whole that the pieces and parts find their health and well-being.


number-of-major-wild-fires-by-continent-and-decade-since-_951Seeing values as systems is an unusual approach to ethics. This piece is the introduction to my new book, the Evolution of Values. If exploring ethics and values form this fresh and provocative pain of view interests you, then join me. If you would like to help me write by offering feedback as I write, then join me. If you are interested in reading this book as it takes shape and form, being among the very first to engage with these ideas, then join me!   Sign up here and let’s get started!


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On Amazon – Culture Values & Unintended Consequences: A Workbook

Knowing what to do and knowing why are two very different things. With ethics, for most of human existence, we have been focusing on the what. Ethics has become a rulebook, often codified into laws that have attempted to provide us with all of the ‘right’ things to do and the consequences for the ‘wrong’ things. Has that approach worked? Certainly the Ten Commandments are part of that approach, and we seem to have some difficulty dealing effectively with only ten rules let alone the myriads of rules we currently live under.

Conflating ethics with rules and laws with ethical behavior leaves much to be desired. Not only is it not possible to codify all behavior (the army has tried), who has time to read them and that doesn’t help in the throes of a crisis or in the heat of decision-making. Simply put the what doesn’t tell us why so that we can act coherently in new and unusual situations. Why do we want to be ‘good’ as an inherent part of our nature? No child is born wanting to be ‘bad,’ bad is a strategy.

If humans are an integral and inherent part of nature, then, perhaps, the answer can be found there. Is nature inherently ‘good?’ Janine Benyus of biomimicry fame stated that in nature all actions create the conditions that support Life. This, for me, is a very clear, and even easy to apply what. It seats us into the natural web of life and provides us with a clear mission and direction for how we contribute to the health of the planet. What could be more ethical than that? This value is one of the key values in the Sustainable Values Set®, and a useful way to think about creating culture. It doesn’t address the deeper why, however.

Closely allied with ethics is integrity. When I look up integrity I get: truthfulness, honor, veracity, reliability, uprightness. Veracity means; reality, actuality, authenticity, genuineness, trueness. When I ask students about integrity they usually settle on reliability. This has always bothered me, because Hitler was reliable, but we would not call him ethical and would be hard put to say he had integrity, so there seems to be more to the word than just being reliable.

Veracity comes closer to the deeper meaning of integrity, I think. What makes something have trueness or reality? Why is being authentic important? The answers to these questions can be found, I believe, in nature. In nature, what is true and authentic supports the integrity of the entire system. Nature is NOT about parts and pieces, the world in which humans seem to live so comfortably. Nature is about the larger system, always. It is by keeping that healthy, intact, working well that all of the ‘parts’ (us included) can function well. Health is intrinsic to nature. Sickness happens only when the system is out of wack. The natural state of Life, is health.

Look at your company culture. Would you say it is healthy? Is it vibrant and robust? It is creative and responsive, resilient in the face of challenges? Can you name the people in your organization that you would say have integrity? Who holds the entire organization as the focus for decision-making? Who can extend that concern into the community and the environment? Who is responsible for your organizations integrity? How does your organization contribute to the health and integrity of your community, of the planet?

I’m going to challenge you again. Send me examples of thorny ethical questions and let’s see if looking at the health and integrity of the larger system offers up solutions. I will share your questions and my thoughts on solutions I future articles, so send them in!

Walking your talk is not easy – that’s why working with a coach/mentor is helpful! Check out my Coaching with Kathryn website, and let’s talk!

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When we make laws or contest the making of those laws, when we speak philosophically, we often forget that we are talking about human beings. There are three current news stories that make this point. The first is the hubris of Elliot Roger. People are wondering if being half Asian and half white drove him to kill. People are wondering if his class/status drove his to kill. Posh, his arrogance (tied to both of these) and his unwillingness to look into the mirror are see what an arrogant B****rd he was, is what allowed him to think he had the right to kill.

The second story has to do with the Open Carry Texas (OCT) brazen act of going, en mass, into a local burrito store carrying big guns across their chests and assuming that they had the right and privilege to scare everyone else. Their willingness to provoke everyone else in order to justify their behavior was simply hubris.

The third story has to do with Amazon and the tactics it is using to derail sales of the books published by Hachette. By ensuring that their books take 2-3 weeks to get to the purchaser, that there are no pre-order buy buttons, that their books cost more etc. They are trying to force that publisher to meet Amazon’s lower pricing demands. Andrew Leonard, in his Salon article about this makes a strong comparison with Walmart. When the true cost of any product is artificially manipulated, then the true costs are deflected onto others parts of the system and/or the quality suffers. This is a lose lose scenario – a race to the bottom. The whole situation stems from the fact that Amazon now controls the publishing industry because they control book selling. While it appears to help the consumer (cheaper books, etc.) it has the potential to destroy the publishing industry and majorly reduce the quality of the books that do get published (we are already seeing that). Amazon is doing this because it can, because Jim Bezos wants to be the winner in this contest of wills.

Can you see the thread that ties all of these stories together? Try arrogance and ego and an incredible indifference to the impact of the chosen behavior on anyone else. Try a sense of superiority and entitlement – a feeling of being “special” with no need to be accountable or respectful of anyone else. This, my friends, is what power does to human nature. Is anyone immune? I doubt it. The bigger question is how do we, as a society handle it? There was a time in our history when both religion and community could bring some pressure to bear in these kinds of situations. That is why we used to have checks and balances in our governmental structure – to counterbalance this tendency. That is the claim made for the ‘free’ market 9a whole other article) and the seduction of many other utopian dreams. If only, if only people didn’t have egos, if only power didn’t corrupt – but it does!

Today the true counterbalance is massive public indignation. That too, seems to be disappearing. We are feeling less powerful not more, we are too busy trying survive to turn our attention to anything outside of our own survival. We are too much in debt to take the risks we need to take to ensure that the system works. We are tired and scared and choose distraction and entertainment to the hard work of change. We can, however, look into our own mirrors and see our own entitlements and deal with those. If we do not, then we will co-conspire with others who won’t and rationalize that it was race, class, or greed that caused them to act that way, tisk, tisk, tisk. That allows us to continue to go on feeling good about ourselves, feeling sure that we are different and maybe just a little bit special.

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The Wonders of Technology

In a recent Fastcompany article entitled ” Baby Born Inside an MRI Machine, Captured in Breakthrough Imagery” there was much excitement about the new knowledge science will now have about the birthing process. This will improve the ability of doctors to deal with unusual and difficult births.

I can see a new market here – be the first on your block to get the images of YOUR baby’s birth.

These kinds of scientific advances leave me with very mixed feelings. It’s good we will be able to develop new ways of helping with difficult births and save lives (both mother’s and babies) by doing so but are we clear on the long-term cost? What I mean by that is a reference to how very little we know about our mental and emotional development.

We have little knowledge and therefore little respect for how humans, well, become human. I wonder about the baby’s experience. What decisions is that little mind making to make sense of that experience and how will those decisions, long forgotten and very foundational, affect that child’s behavior in the years to come?

We have no way of knowing what that might be and any cause and effect will be lost in the annals of time. It is this non-linear impact that makes understanding any human behavior so difficult and so hard to change. So, ethically, what is best choice? Should we take our chances and chalk up the possible cost in human life to ‘progress’ or should we take our time to ensure a reduction in cost? What do you think?

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For centuries people have searched for ethical constructs that would be applicable world-wide. Some ethical framework that all people believed in and practiced. That has always seemed like a logical search to me. However even simple ethics like don’t steal and don’t kill generate exceptions, even in my own culture, let alone world-wide.

Paul F. Buller, John J. Kohls and Kenneth S. Anderson in their work “The Challenge of global ethics” think leaders need to begin to create just such an ethic. I smile as I write this, for the idea that a few ‘good’ people can just create ethics is a bit amusing. I can agree, however on the need for such an ethic, especially in this time of global commerce.

The other issue I see is the tendency to create medical ethics; marketing ethics; business ethics; etc. This seems to suggest that there are different ethics for different situations. That’s rather confusing and scary, actually. I believe the confusion comes from our subtle conviction that the world is composed of pieces and parts, so every piece needs its own ethic. It is this very fragmentedness that is at the heart of the problems stated above. The lack of clarity around stealing and killing. We all know that there are times when both of these acceptable, self preservation, for one. Yest we also know that there are times when both of these are very, very wrong. The dilemma is in trying to determine in a fairly clear fashion, which is which.

I think I have the answer to this problem and its been under our nose for the whole time.

The Sustainable Values Set® was ‘discovered’ by looking at how the Earth works. If the Earth was alive and made choices about her actions, what values would she be practicing? Understanding this has opened up a deeper understanding that gets around all of the issues inherent in most ethic systems. It’s that parts and pieces thing. The Earth acts on behalf of the WHOLE system. She’s not into parts and pieces.

Here’s the prime directive: The Earth/Nature creates the conditions that support Life. Sort’a a ‘Duh’ isn’t it? Yet, does YOUR business do this? How often do we create the conditions in which there is NO Life possible? That’s the fodder for another post.

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It’s Spring, the photo above might not look like it, but it is. The temperature is in the 60-70s, a breeze is blowing and coats are not needed. Another breeze is blowing – full of hot air; the screaming, name calling, “kill that sucker” venom  that passes for dialogue today.

I spent an hour on the phone with a friend and he was saying that he no longer gives himself a political label to be provocative, because people stop listening if they think he is different than they are. He feels this is true, even for friends.

I too, have taken that approach. I’m in several very heated conversations about politics and the state of things and I’ve never given myself a label and I work hard not to claim any labeled point of view. I definitely have opinions,  but I claim neither Democrat, Republican, liberal, progressive, Libertarian or any other label.

I’ll discuss opinions, but prefer facts, I won’t listen to name calling or hate language and delete it when ‘well meaning’ friends pass it along. Why is this so hard? Why do my friends persist in sending me that drivel? When I attempted to decline their emails I was accused of not being open. OPEN!? What’s open about hate? What’s open about lies and distortions?

Why are addicted to highly emotional diatribes that simply vent our feelings and resistant to questions about sources and inquiries into actual fact-based histories? What do we fear? Why are we running away from the complexities of life and hanging on to simplified stories that have no hope of actually addressing the issues?

What’s wrong with us?

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Umair Huque is saying that companies need to be good before they try to be  great, He’s suggesting that companies form their DNA by having a higher  purpose and by making ethical reasoning part of their everyday business practices.

Among the five point list, having employees engaged in their talents as suggested by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their book, First, Break All the Rules. Really scoping out what employees do well and then have them do only that – what a concept!

A culture of meaning and what he calls ‘ethical accelerators’ are two more points and we, at Ethical Impact L3C couldn’t agree more. 90% of our work is trying to get company leadership to understand that motivation is tacit (underneath our conscious mind) and fueled by the energy of emotion. People do good work because they care and because they know it’s expected and they are supported in doing what they think needs to be done. This requires a lost of trust from management. If you don’t trust your employees then this doesn’t make sense to yu land you should stop reading right now.

If you don’t do any of the others mentioned here, then you can’t do the last one – manage from facts. Data is just as good as the methods of gathering it, and if people are wary of the ‘shoot the messenger’ syndrome, then the data you get is what you want to see – NOT what is really happening. You may think you are managing from facts, but the facts you are using aren’t real. They will only be real if people care and if they have the power and authority to get it and still keep their jobs.

Ethical Impact L3C is committed to helping companies reach these goals, that’s why the Forever Green™ certification starts at working with small companies of 1-5 people. Get it into your companies DNA and you will have an easier time of it as you grow. If you plan to go public, then meeting the SECs criteria will be a piece of cake!

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