Live life by your values

Ethics and what we care about are not necessarily the same thing; it is our actions – not words – that speak the loudest.

Blonde guy looking confused 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Blonde guy looking confused 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When a mother rushes into a burning building to save her child, she is not acting on any ethical principle; she is acting because she cares about her child.
Ethics and what we care about are not necessarily the same thing. Someone might be a master of ethical reasoning or a whiz at moral philosophy, but if he engages in contemptible behavior, then what he does and cares about do not reflect his ethical wisdom.
An example of this distinction was evident in an experiment with graduate divinity students at Princeton University.
The psychologists John Darley and C. Bateson told graduate divinity students that they would have to walk to another building and give a talk to a group of freshmen students. Half the graduates were told to speak about employment opportunities after graduation, and the other half were told to discuss the parable of the Good Samaritan from the New Testament.
The parable has become so popular that the phrase “good Samaritan” has been adapted to common English to mean someone who helps a stranger.
Some graduates were told that they were already late for the talk and that they should hurry. The others were told they had enough time to get there.
On the way to the talk, all graduates passed a man who was slumped over against a wall, apparently in need of assistance.
The man, in reality, had been set up by the psychologists. To emphasize his distress, as the graduates passed by, he coughed twice and groaned.
The results showed that what graduates were thinking about and preparing to teach had no impact on how they acted.
But whether they had been instructed to hurry mattered a great deal; those in a hurry were far less likely to stop and provide assistance than the other subjects.
THE EXPERIMENT showed that thinking or studying ethics and morals by itself does not change behavior. The beliefs that these divinity students held dear were easily manipulated by an instruction from an unknown psychologist.
What wasn’t measured in the experiment is the difference in response between divinity students and regular students.
Compassion and helping strangers should be a core value for those in divinity school. As such, under regular circumstances, they should be more likely to help the stranger than other students would.
Some educational institutions are trying to teach altruism and compassion to professionals and business school students.
They are doing so by giving them more classes in ethics. But MBA and professional graduate students often go to school with the core value of making a quick fortune.
Ten courses in ethics will not change their values and approach.
Values are connected to how you live your life, and not just your philosophical position. It determines how you make significant decisions that affect your everyday life. Examples of such values include making a point of not just talking to but visiting a grandparent every week (whether an hour or five minutes away); setting aside time on a daily basis to pray or meditate; or choosing a place to live based on community values and educational options for children.
As shown from the Princeton study, the value of giving and helping can be challenged when it conflicts with personal need. There is a lesson here about teaching important values to our children.
Make sure children believe they are responsible for themselves. In addition to responsibility for their personal hygiene and schoolwork, it is important to give them chores and other tasks to do in the home. This is the first step in learning their ability to positively help others.
Also remember that your actions speak louder than your words. You are a role model.
You cannot tell your child not to smoke if you smoke a pack a day. You can’t tell your child to volunteer if you sit in front of the television for hours every day after work.
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”