As we grow up, we are taught the difference between right and wrong. Even in the absence of effective parenting, a growing problem in this day and age, children look to schools, their religious institutions, their clubs and peers, and the media for answers. Teachers are typically overburdened, attendance at church has diminished to approximately 40% of the populace, the media is more inclined to promote sex and violence as opposed to morality, and there is a steady resurgence of juvenile gang related problems in recent years. It’s not until we are older, and more mature, when the difference is made clear to us. Even then, it remains fuzzy to some of us.

I’m not here to preach dogma, only to try and articulate how we learn the differences between the two. Perhaps the most influential philosophy in this regards is “The Golden Rule” whereby we are admonished to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This is a fundamental part of modern human rights and a philosophy embraced by all religions. Yet, it is something we have moved away from in recent times as people have become more self-centered due to socioeconomic influences; e.g., greed and competition.

In the corporate world, for example, there is more of an inclination to establish “Win-Lose” relationships as opposed to “Win-Win,” as professed by the late quality assurance consultant W. Edwards Deming. Under “Win-Lose,” in order for one party to succeed, another party must fail. Deming challenged this rationale and questioned what is wrong with establishing “Win-Win” relationships whereby both parties succeed. He often cited the story of the project to make NYLON, the well known synthetic polymer, which was developed by two groups working in cooperation, one from New York (NY) and another from London (LON), hence the name. Joining forces, was simply the right thing to do.

Pursuant to Deming’s work, I have learned that the only type of business deal to enter into is a situation where both parties benefit, not just one. If one party prospers at the expense of the other, it is simply not worth it. Consequently, integrity and trust are key elements for “Win-Win,” two important socialization skills that seem to be diminishing. There is nothing wrong with tough negotiations, but when a deal is struck, you must have confidence that the other party if going to uphold their end of the bargain.

Doing the right thing is not always easy; in fact, it can be rather painful which is one reason why some people avoid it and take the most expeditious way out. For example, people would rather find a loophole than pay a creditor what is rightfully due them. Doing what is right isn’t always profitable either, as we discovered when we made the decision to move our business from Cincinnati, Ohio to the Tampa Bay area of Florida. At the time, we had several employees and when we finally made the decision to move the company, we offered them two choices, either we would help them find a new job locally or pay their relocation expenses to Florida. Keep in mind, we were not required to do either, but felt it was the right thing to do. Economically, it would have been cheaper to terminate everyone and recruit new personnel in Florida, but this was not the route we took. From this perspective, doing “right” means accommodating others, not just yourself.

Doing what is right requires moral fiber which comes from learned behavior. In the absence of parenting and formal teachings, it is learned through the social mores of the people we come in contact with, regardless if they are positive or negative role models. In other words, in order to adapt to a social group, be it a vicious gang or a Cub Scout pack, we will gravitate towards and emulate those we perceive as confident leaders or those with particular talents we admire, hence the need for positive role models. This also means the media has a moral responsibility to our culture. If they depict unsavory characters with questionable moral integrity in a favorable light, the actions of these characters will be envied and emulated. Yes, life can definitely imitate art.

So, is doing the right thing “right” for you? That depends on your perceptions and priorities. Understand this though, doing what is right is more than just adhering to the legal laws of the land. It’s also a matter of adhering to the moral values you have personally adopted. Now for the big question, how does your morality compare to what society expects; is it better, worse, or nothing more than the status quo? Hopefully, it is better. Doing “right” requires perseverance and an intolerance for what is “wrong.” Bottom line, can you look yourself in the mirror with any regrets?

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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