Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Can We All Be More Ethical in 2011 and Beyond?

Can we add ethics to our list of resolutions for 2011?

As we approach the end of the year we seem to naturally reflect on the outgoing year and anticipate the new one. Regardless of our religious traditions (or lack of any) and the celebrations that we might participate in at this time of year, coming to the end of one year and starting a new one is a natural time to reflect on where we've been and where we're going. Between Thanksgiving and New Years we all likely spend some time reflecting in this way. Perhaps we feel committed to lose weight, exercise more, or improve our relationships at home or at at work in the coming year. Maybe we hope to work harder to get that big break in 2011 (whatever that might be for us...a better job, a promotion, publish our novel, find the perfect mate). Often these start of the new year goals are about losing pounds in weight and gaining pounds in money!  While these goals are common and perhaps worthwhile, I wonder if we might add ethics to the list. Can we commit to being more ethical in 2011?

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We seem to be living in a world that has become exceedingly more narcissistic, selfish, impatient, and unethical in so many ways. It certainly seems that way attending to the daily news. I don't know about you but I can't follow current events without getting upset with our ethically challenged politicians, sports and entertainment celebrities, Wall Street financial professionals, and so forth. Sometimes I have to admit that I want to throw up my hands (or just plan throw up) and give up hoping that those who seem to have much power, control, and influence in our world will actually do the right thing, behave ethically, and work towards the common good for all. However, giving these folks some benefit of the doubt, I'm sure that those who know them best such as their family and closest friends might not see them as being so ethically challenged. Perhaps it is the environment in which they live along with expectations for their behavior and various pressures that create ethical problems. For example, I don't know how a politician can possibly be ethical and stay in office. They must have to compromise their honesty and integrity in so many ways just to get elected and then stay in office.


While it is countercultural now in so many ways I tend to think that people really do want ethical friends, neighbors, business partners, co-workers, leaders, and people in general. If the conditions are right people want to be ethical and want to expect ethical behavior in others. Therefore, I wonder if we could all work to commit ourselves to being more honest, maintaining more integrity, working more towards the common good for all, being more responsible, and trying harder to be more attentive to the needs of others. If interested I detail strategies to do this in my book, Do the Right Thing: Living Ethically in an Unethical World [http://www.amazon.com/Do-Right-Thing-Ethically-Unethical/dp/1572243643]. It seems like our community and world really needs more than ever a firmer commitment (perhaps even a movement) to strive to be better, more ethical, more caring, more loving, more thoughtful, and thus more countercultural from the current norms and expectations in our world. Can we do our part and encourage in others (especially our civic and business leaders) to commit to ethics too?

What do you think?  How can we move the ball forward in 2011 to make a more ethical world for us all?  I'm all ears.

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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