Whether you’re a business, in a relationship, or a single person just maneuvering this world, adhering to an ethical value system enables you to act with more confidence. You know that your speech, behavior, and actions align with what you think is right and that you act like the person you think you should be. Below is a list to help you on your ethical value journey.
What Are Some of the Best Ethical Values to Have?
Stop lying. In all situations. Even if it doesn’t hurt anyone, even if no one will find out if you lied, you will know. Even if you think so little of the lie that you won’t remember doing it by the end of the day, don’t do it.
No one will know you lied except you. You’ll know you lied. Which means, at your core, you’ll know you’re a dishonest person. And that will color how you see yourself, which cascades into the vibration you produce (as per the Law of Attraction) and impact the opportunities available in your life.
If you’re skeptical of the spiritual stuff, then believe this: people will trust you less if they catch you lying. It’s easy to damage a reputation, hard to repair it. Don’t put yourself in that position.
Be honest. When you lie, you use falsities as a way to facilitate a smoother social interaction. But when you stop lying, you force yourself to accept whatever difficulties you caused. You have to publicly own up to them, which hoists a new set of skills onto you.
How do you communicate humility and empathy? How do you talk someone out of anger? Those are better skills to learn than how to lie more effectively.
It is ethical to communicate your emotions to those around you, even if you believe airing those emotions would upset the people around you? Lack of communication causes more harm than communicating, much like how telling the truth is better than lying.
How? Let’s say Charlie doesn’t like confrontation. He’d rather sweep things under the rug and play out situations in the smoothest way possible. There’s no need to bring up how his coworker’s loud talking at his desk disturbs Charlie. Charlie just plugs in his headphones and tries to push through the distraction as best as he can.
But after months of disjointed work, with lower-quality projects, because he couldn’t focus, Charlie now resents his coworker. Everything that coworker does bothers Charlie. In meetings, Charlie can barely stand to look at his coworker, let alone interact with him.
When Charlie and his coworker are forced together on a project, the whole product suffers because Charlie continued to clip communication and insist on doing everything himself — even when it was too much on his plate — rather than equally divide the work between the two of them.
Because Charlie couldn’t communicate to his frustrations, his annoyances accumulated until he thoroughly resented his coworker. Charlie’s happiness at work suffered, as well as the results of work Charlie and his team could produce. The lack of communication had net harm, even though it made Charlie comfortable to avoid confrontation.
Communication is hard. It requires emotional intelligence, excellent interpersonal skills, and a pinch of vulnerability. Many people don’t have the maturity to acquire those three traits, which is why people choose to bottle up their emotions rather than express their concerns.
But as with the hypothetical example involving Charlie, that course of action leads to a worse outcome than merely learning to swallow the difficulty and communicate your feelings. Healthy communication is an essential part of ethical living.
The biggest reason why avoiding communication isn’t ethical is because it isn’t fair. You continue to hurt yourself by staying resentful yet silent, and the other person doesn’t know how to alter their behavior to facilitate the most effective environment for everyone involved. Forgoing communication harms both you and the person you’re restricting communication from.
But fairness doesn’t stop there. You should strive to be fair in other areas of your life.
Romantic relationships are a perfect example. You should strive to treat your partner how they would like to be treated, of course, but you should also be fair to your needs and desires. If your partner wants to spend all day, every day with you, it’s not fair to your family, friends, or a sense of independence.
But if you swing too far in the opposite direction and prioritize your independence over your partner’s feelings, you’re not treating them fairly.
The standard for fairness shifts depending on the circumstances, but a core vein is the sense of balance. Are both or all parties putting in the same amount? Are you and your partner putting in the same amount of hours, effort, and care into the relationship? If not, then the relationship lacks fairness, and the imbalance could threaten how long it lasts.
Fairness means tipping the waiter at restaurants and letting people get out of the elevator before you enter it. Fairness is giving all your employees with the same amount of attention and support. Fairness, also, means giving yourself the same amount of care that you give other people.
Without fairness in your life, you’ll get upset those around you. It’s necessary to implement balance and fairness into your daily habits to promote an ethical lifestyle.
It feels like empathy has gotten a bad rap as if talking about empathy brings up connotations of sappy cry-fests and singing Kumbaya.
If that’s your cup of tea, go for it. But empathy is crucial to living not only an ethical life but a happy one at that.
Empathy is the key to feeling connected to the world. This means the people around you, non-human animals, the environment, and everything else around you.
Lacking empathy blocks you. It’s as if you put up walls to other people, then stick mirrors on those walls. Everything in your environment is a reflection of you and your emotions only, and everything else falls to the waist side.
When you lack empathy, you’re more combative, since you tend to want people to see your way. You can’t step into people’s shoes to get their perspective, and so your two perspectives butt heads.
Lacking empathy also means you’re likely to step on people’s toes, as you’re not able to see how your actions could affect those around you. You could pass by that homeless person with contempt, or scoff at another person’s problems as trivial.
This isn’t to say that you’re entirely heartless if you don’t freely express empathy. It just means that you’ll live a lower-quality life and a life in which your actions cause people harm or distress. Empathy is the key to a better, ethical life.
Empathy lets you listen more. It allows you to put your problems in perspective to the issues of those around you. You no longer become the main actor in the stage of life, but a supporting role to the overall narrative.
We hate to break it to you, but it’s not all about you. And when you realize that, your demeanor changes from entitled to cooperative, and everyone is better for it.
Tolerance, essentially, is withstanding. It’s withstanding difficulty, discomfort, the unknown, and a host of other items. Tolerance to pain means enduring a physically or mentally tricky task. Tolerance to other people’s beliefs means not judging someone because they don’t act, behave, speak, or present like you do.
Tolerance is non-judgment in action. When you practice tolerance, you tell other people that you accept them for who they are. Through your words, body language, or behavior, you don’t make that person feel like they have to change who they are.
You don’t push people away. In fact — you draw more people in because people like feeling that you’re not going to look down on them for the way they are.
Tolerance is also the key ingredient to growth. You have to tolerate resistance to grow. Runners must tolerate muscle pain, a fast heartbeat, and their mind screaming at them to stop, lie down, and take a nap. But enduring the discomfort sparks growth, and eventually diminishes future levels of discomfort.
The same tolerance is needed to grow ethically. When you tolerate the discomfort of changing habits, of self-reflecting on the ways you’ve hurt other people and your surroundings and deciding on how you could improve in the future, you create the necessary mental space to not only draw in ethical habits but ensure they stay.
Hand-in-hand with tolerance is self-discipline. When you see someone dressed in a way you’re not used to or particularly enjoy, do you say something to that person? If you want to change your behavior to align with your ethical values, do you have the self-discipline to get off your butt and make a change?
Often, our default desires don’t align with our ethical values. Meat is tasty. It’s easier to take a car than walk someplace. It feels pleasurable to gossip. It’s nice to drink alcohol with your friends and talk late into the night — even if your volume disturbs your neighbors.
Our pleasures must be restrained in order for us to live ethically. Self-discipline is not only the leash to tame these desires, but the firm grip to ensure they don’t pull free and continue doing what they want.
Eventually, your brain will learn to stop desiring non-ethical activities altogether, but that’s only the case if you train it to do so through rigorous self-discipline. This means doing the dirty work to sift through your life and set things how you’d like it to be.
Self-discipline, in the name of ethical living, is necessary to execute habit change properly. Once your ethical habits become autonomous, you won’t have to practice intense self-discipline consciously. But until then, keep your grip firm and ensure you have the strength to hang on.
You’ve made a mistake. What do you do now?
If you blame another person, make excuses, or not even acknowledge the fact that you’ve made a mistake, you lack accountability.
Lacking accountability means you don’t have the emotional maturity to be vulnerable. When you admit that you were wrong, you relinquish the fact that someone else was right. It hurts to feel in the wrong, and so making excuses or placing blame on someone else is the easier method to keep your pride intact while shirking off responsibility.
But accountability is another necessary ingredient for growth. When you can say, “I messed up in the past, I realized what I did was wrong, and I’m going to work not to do that type of thing again,” it shows that you’re a person committed to becoming a better person rather than running around as the wounded, immature person you are.
Accountability is hard. It’s embarrassing. It can bring you shame. In the wake of Me Too, it can even end your career. But accountability is acknowledging that you did not do the right thing in the past, but the person you are now will commit to repairing the damage and stepping forward on the right foot.
When you say, “I wasn’t ethical in the past, but I’m going to fix my mistakes and be ethical moving forward,” you’ve shown you hold yourself accountable for your actions.
Ethical living involves respecting other people or things nearly if not as much as you respect yourself.
When you respect the environment, for example, you treat act in a way that benefits it the most while also serving your needs. If you go for a hike, you’re going to stay on the path rather than going off and trampling potentially endangered species. When you settle down to eat a snack, you take your trash with you rather than leave litter in your surroundings.
Respect means treating everything with worth. Not just worth in a way that benefits you, but worth for its own sake. You treat people, animals, places, things, in a way that promotes its longevity, safety, and value. Living respectfully means living humbly, which puts your ego in perspective.
To have respect for everything around you, you have to have the discipline and accountability to treat others in a way that benefits it as much as it benefits you.
Finally, you have to live with excellence in mind to practice a successfully ethical life.
This means that you can’t half-ass the characteristics above. You can’t be truthful, respectful, accountable, or empathetic some of the time. You have to push yourself to be the best possible.
Avoiding excellence is to restrain yourself in some way, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Voluntarily would be to procrastinate on a project until there’s no way you could do as good of a job on it as if you had started sooner. Involuntarily would be to have so much on your plate that you can’t devote enough attention to projects to excel at them.
It’s not fair to others. And since fairness is necessary for ethical living, so too is excellence. We hope you’ve noticed that each of these traits mix and interact with each other. When you practice honesty, for example, you practice communication, vulnerability, and respect as well.
So do everything you do with the utmost excellence. It’s the best way to get to an ethical lifestyle quickly and efficiently.
The Goal: Integrity
By definition, integrity is acting in a way that upholds your moral principles. This could mean what people typically associate the word with — doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching. But it could mean acting in a way that aligns with your list of ethical values.
The goal is to act, behave, speak, and think with integrity. You want acting ethically to become unconscious.
For example, you don’t have to think twice about telling someone that money fell out of their pocket. Instead of waiting for that person to walk away for you to collect it yourself, you tell the person the money fell. You don’t pocket any money, but you know you’re honest, which is truly the reward.
Having good judgment allows you to look through a situation and see what route is the best to act ethically. Acting in good judgment means being alert and sober at all times, as you’re more likely to do something you regret when you’re not vigilant to yourself and your surroundings.
You can judge whether you’ve been living with the moral principles you’ve instilled in yourself or not. If not, then you’ll have to decide how best to obtain that ethical life you’ve set out for.
What Are Ways to Live Ethically?
You can tailor this list depending on what you feel is best for you. Below are some of the most common ways people have decided to live ethically.
Be More Environmentally Conscious
The average American throws out more than 1,300 pounds of trash each year, and every pound of that rots in an ever-growing landfill. This isn’t even mentioning the 36,865 gallons of water used each year per person, and the slew of other resources just one person uses or throws out in this country every year.
More and more people are asking whether the resources they use every year is fair to the limited environmental resources available on this planet. As the human population grows, more American citizens are deciding that the best way to live ethically is to reduce their environmental impact.
People have done this through, yes, reducing the amount of trash and water they use, but also going vegan, adopting a zero-waste lifestyle, and reducing how much fossil fuel they use among others. With resources shrinking, consumers have decided that their lifestyle will live more accordingly with the environment.
Give Up Meat Once a Day
If you’re not able to cut it out completely, going vegetarian for just one day a week has hugely beneficial environmental and social impacts.
You’ll not only be forced to eat more veggies, healthy carbs, fats, and fruits for that meal, but you can even stave off death. A study from Harvard found that eating red meat increases life-expectancy. The more red meat you eat, the younger you’ll be when you die.
It’s enough to cut out beef from your diet altogether, which would not only promote your longevity but put fewer dollars toward deforestation in the name of beef production and save water and other crops from being diverted towards the industry.
Reducing meat, especially red meat, for just one day a week, can be an easy way to add more ethical practices to your lifestyle.
In a similar vein to environmentally conscious living is ethical consumerism. Every day people are deciding to vote with their dollars and by from companies who have similar belief systems they do.
An example of this would be to boycott companies who use sweatshop labor to produce their products and rather purchase from companies who prove they make their items while respecting workers. Another example would be to avoid companies who donate their profits to harmful organizations, whether political or social.
Ethical consumerism ensures that your money doesn’t go to nefarious businesses who cause more harm than good. By supporting such companies, consumers would be complicit in the adverse outcomes that occur.
Therefore, the best ways to practice ethical consumerism today is to stop buying from non-ethical companies, do research, and see which companies support your values.
Tip: A quick change you can make right now is to switch your search engine to Ecosia. Ecosia operates like Google, but every 45 searches on Ecosia plants one tree in a place that desperately needs it. You can improve the environment while still using the internet as you normally would — a minor change toward ethical consumerism.
Donate to Charity
If you have the funds to spare, consider donating some money to a non-profit vowing to spark positive change.
To choose where best to donate your money, first do your research on the charities you’re interested in. Do they actually use the money as they’ve promised they would, or do they do it in more selfish ways? It’s best to consult Google (or Ecosia) for that one.
Read up on the charity’s mission statement and decide if it aligns with your values. Be sure to have a specific set of points you’d like to see your charity hit, such as the time in which they hope to finish projects and how they wish to grow their non-profit in the future.
Next, decide where the charity should do its work. Do you want to see local change, state-wide, national, or global differences? The scale of the charity’s work impacts how quickly and effectively change is implemented.
Ask yourself if you want to help new charities get their feet off the ground or if you want the security of an older charity.
The charity can be of your choosing depending on what issues you think are more concerning. Whether it’s social justice, environmental protection, or helping the less fortunate, the money you donate could help improve the world — which is just one way you can make a significant, ethical difference.
Give Back to Your Community
Rather than giving your money, giving your time can be just as impactful. You could volunteer to work at a soup kitchen to feed the homeless, especially if extreme poverty is an issue where you live.
You could also volunteer at a park, offer to clean the cages and take care of the animals at a local humane shelter, spend time with the elderly in nursing homes, and in other ways brighten up the lives of those geographically close to you.
It doesn’t require shelling out money, but it involves giving back to the community in which you live. Actually, volunteering is one of the best ways to remind yourself that you do, indeed, live in a community.
It’s easy to forget to volunteer, what with the hustle and bustle of our lives. But meeting strangers from your community and forging relationships reminds us how connected we really are to each other.
Living Ethically Will Require Work
We’re going to make an assumption and say that you, right here, reading this article, have at least three ways you can live more ethically. Can you lie to others less? Can you stop placing blame on others and own up to your mistakes? Can you purchase products that have better environmental and social impacts?
The chances are that you can improve in all three sectors — and then some. However, we’ve just given you suggestions on how to improve. It’s up to you to actually implement these changes into your life and start living ethically.
It will require elbow grease, as any habit change does. But the habits of living more ethically will not only improve your personal life but your professional, romantic lives as well. Changes will cascade into your city and state, into the environment a continent away.
Change starts with you, but you have to be willing to live more ethically. By reading this ethical values list, you already have a head start.