Written and Narrated by
Robert Prentice, J.D.
Business, Government & Society Department
McCombs School of Business
The University of Texas at Austin
“Many of the Concepts Unwrapped videos use the research generated by the new field of behavioral ethics to illustrate how difficult it can be to do the right thing, even for people who are good folks. A desire to please authority or to fit in with the group may cause people to act inconsistently with their own moral values. For example, the slippery slope can cause people to fail to notice lapses in moral judgment made by themselves or others. The list goes on, but the underlying lesson is clear: It is not easy to always be a good person, even if you want to be.
But behavioral ethics can also give us guidance as to how to act more ethically and induce others to do so too. According to Professor James Rest, there are four key steps to acting ethically, which we have modified slightly. First, people must perceive the ethical dimensions of an issue that they face. This is Moral Awareness. Second, they must have the ability to decide upon a course of action that is ethical. This is Moral Decision Making. Third, they must have the desire to act on that ethical decision. This is known as Moral Intent. Fourth and finally, they must have the motivation and courage to act upon that desire, which we call Moral Action. This video explores the first step to being your best self, which means developing moral awareness.
Absent moral awareness, people might accidentally make the right choice, but they might also accidentally make an unethical choice because they are focusing upon other aspects of the decision calculus and inadvertently omitting any ethical considerations.
Studies on selective attention prove that people generally see what they expect to see. If you focus too much on pleasing your boss, on getting along with your co-workers, on meeting sales quotas or bonus targets, you may not even see an ethical issue which is right there in front of you. The phenomenon that Professors Bazerman and Tenbrunsel call “ethical fading” and Drumwright and Murphy call “moral myopia,” can blind all of us to ethical miscues if we are not careful.
It is our responsibility, as people who wish to live ethical lives, to keep ethics in our frame of reference. We can do so by reminding ourselves every morning in the shower that we wish to be good people and that to meet that goal we must constantly strive to act ethically just as we must constantly strive to gain more knowledge and skill regarding the technical aspects of our jobs. Looking out for ethical minefields is part of our personal and professional responsibility every day.
Behavioral ethics teaches that we must practice listening to our moral intuition, “to our gut,” rather than turning all ethical discussions into legalistic exercises like lawyers weighing both sides of the issue or accountants parsing technical language in an attempt to justify a position that intuition tells them is wrong. Our gut instinct is not always right, but we would be foolish to ignore it. Psychologists DeSteno and Valdesolo say this: “When faced with a moral decision, take a few seconds to pause and listen to your inner voices. Is there a hint of guilt, a hint of shame, a gut feeling of unease? If so, don’t ignore it.” This is your moral awareness awakening.”