Consider the following. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others' actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others' activities. For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others. Nor is it so remarkable that our greatest joy should come when we are motivated by concern for others.

But that is not all. We find that not only do altruistic actions bring about happiness but they also lessen our experience of suffering. Here I am not suggesting that the individual whose actions are motivated by the wish to bring others happiness necessarily meets with less misfortune than the one who does not. Sickness, old age, mishaps of one sort or another are the same for us all. But the sufferings which undermine our internal peace, anxiety, doubt, disappointment these things are definitely less. In our concern for others, we worry less about ourselves. When we worry less about ourselves an experience of our own suffering is less intense.

What does this tell us? Firstly, because our every action has a universal dimension, a potential impact on others' happiness, ethics are necessary as a means to ensure that we do not harm others. Secondly, it tells us that genuine happiness consists in those spiritual qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness and so on. For it is these which provide both for our happiness and others' happiness.

From Ethics for a New Millennium, by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

The Five "P's" of Ethical Power

  • Purpose Your objective or intention; a goal.
  • Pride The sense of satisfaction you receive from your accomplishments, and those individuals of whom you care.
  • Patience Trust the process!
  • Persistence Maintaining your commitment and making your actions consistent with your guiding principles.
  • Perspective The capacity to see what is REALLY important in any situation.

Five Ethical Principles

Consider how these five principles might guide your actions:

  • Respect Autonomy Individuals have the right to decide how they live their lives, as long as their actions do not interfere with the welfare of others. One has the right to act as a free agent, and has the freedom of thought and choice.
  • Do No Harm The obligation to avoid inflicting either physical or psychological harm on others may be a primary ethical principle.
  • Benefit Others There is an obligation to improve and enhance the welfare of others, even where such enhancements may inconvenience or limit the freedom of the person offering the assistance.
  • Be Just To be just in dealing with others assumes equal treatment of all, to afford each individual their due portion, and in general, to observe the Golden Rule.
  • Be Faithful One should keep promises, tell the truth, be loyal, and maintain respect and civility in human discourse. Only in so far as we sustain faithfulness can we expect to be seen as being trustworthy.

Ethics Check

  • Is it legal? Will I be violating civil law or university policy? 
  • Is it balanced? Is it fair to all concerned? Does it promote win/win situations?
  • How will it make me feel about myself? Will it make me proud? Would I feel good if my hometown newspaper published my decision? Would I feel good if my family knew?

From The Power of Ethical Management, by K. Blanchard and N.V. Peale

Additional Resources