Making ethical decisions is not something that comes naturally to people. You learn right from wrong as you grow up from all kinds of places: your family, your religious beliefs, your education, and your friends. Together with your life experiences, these influences have a profound effect on your decision making. These things also shape our views when we have to make choices that are not so clear cut. We may make those decisions based on past hurts, personal gain, or because we don’t see any other option.
The great thing about ethics is that you can start thinking ethically at any time. All you really have to do is want to improve both yourself and those around you. Decide what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be more altruistic and do more for others? Do you want to be more judicious in your decisions and make sure that you treat everyone more fairly? Do you want to restore the self-respect of those around you? What does treating people—including yourself—with respect look like to you? These are the kinds of questions that may come up as you try to better yourself. No one answer is right for everyone, and you can choose some of one thing and add something else as you go. It all depends on how you want to see yourself.
After you have an idea of the kind of person you want to be, you can start putting that ideal into practice. When a situation comes up and there is not aclear-cut decision to be made, stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish for yourself. For example, if you are at work and presented with two different bids for the same project and have to select one, how do you decide? If you want to treat people more fairly, would you pick one team over the other and then promise the team you didn’t select that it will be their turn next time? Would you try to combine the two bids into one so that everyone felt like they contributed a little? There are so many ways to look at a situation, and once you find one that you feel represents who you are trying to become, you know you have the right decision.
The last thing that we have found when you are trying to do things in an ethical way is to follow through with what you set out to do. It might be nice to think about doing and being better but you actually have to commit to putting in the work as well. If you tell people that you are going to treat them fairly, and then constantly choose the second-rate projects from your favorite employee, then you aren’t living up to your word. If you make a tough decision and complications arise, own them. Don’t try to deflect it onto someone else or try to sweep it under the rug. Don’t continue to find exceptions or loopholes to the ethical standard you have created for yourself.
You can do this! It’s never too late to start!