While I believe that good things tend to happen to people who consistently choose the high road, the correlation between ethics and success is a loose one at best. Thus, it’s pretty hard to sincerely promote ethics by appeals to self-interest.
What’s more, when self-interest is the controlling justification for moral behavior, moral reasoning is replaced by a pragmatic cost-benefit analysis that invites rationalizations and condones selfishness. When people are kind, honest, or respectful only when there’s a pay-off, or obey rules only when they think the risk of punishment is too great, ethical behavior is just an investment.
Judging by the amount of lying, cheating, and other dishonorable conduct out there, it’s not generally regarded as a good investment. Too often honesty and other virtues impede rather than improve chances for success. For those who are unwilling to pay dues for their integrity, ethics simply costs more than they’re willing to pay.
But there is an undervalued benefit of good character, a benefit we can promote in good faith to our kids, students, and employees: people who struggle to be good and decent have better relationships. Traits like honesty, responsibility, compassion, and respectfulness may seem like expensive luxuries, but they’re priceless assets when it comes to building enduring and rewarding relationships with our spouses, children, friends, and co-workers. For most people, good relationships marked by love, respect, and kindness are the best road to happiness. When you think of it, that’s really quite a pay-off.
CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Mr. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.
This article was published by the Josephson Institute.