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How your ethical style influences others.

How your ethical style influences others.

The entire philosophy of Tilting character is linked to being ethical, but I am going to surprise you when you read about my intent behind the system we call Tiltology and the Tilt framework of organizing principles. The trait “ethical” is perhaps the best one in which to illustrate my point.

Here’s the deal.

The minute we believe we are ethical

The minute we believe we are ethical is the beginning of our potential demise. For believing we know what it means to be ethical requires a person to think we are above others and perhaps even above reprisal in general. Which puts us in danger of arrogance because being human also means everything we know can never be enough to know the full truth about anything. We only know what we have experienced, encountered, examined or studied and all of those things will be recorded in our brain with the flawed perceptions of our natural biases. In other words, we remember what we want to remember and discard that which doesn’t line up with our beliefs. True wisdom is when we are aware of the limitations of what is contained in what we know and how it is impossible to be completely certain about much of anything. Only then can we begin to interact in truly ethical or respectful ways with others.

Recently, Seth Godin said something profound that illustrates this point very well. He started his blog with the phrase “All we really have is memories of memories…” and he goes on to explain that every bit of information contained in our brain is derived from what we have perceived and interpreted as we experienced it. As such, the stories we carry around are the way we make meaning out of those experiences. So it makes sense that in no way can one human have access to what we might call “the truth” for every context for our perceptions are recorded with the imperfect system that is our brain and it’s impressions. Imagine how this nature impacts how we think about what is ethical and what is not! How can one person make such an overgeneralizing proclamation, for they don’t know what they don’t know. At Tilt, our answer to questions like this is always “it depends”. This is because what may seem ethical in one situation could be seen as entirely unethical in another or by another who comes at it from a different perspective.

We posit that applying ethics in any situation requires...

We posit that applying ethics in any situation requires one to think about the current moment and the current facts as best as one can, and then applying judgment. Yet at the same time, understanding that there could come a time when our decision won’t be ethical at all in some way. This requires us to tune into the current situation as much as possible and make a decision “given what we know right now” while staying open to being challenged later by new information or perspectives.

My favorite example of an ethical dilemma I faced as an executive happened a long time ago, but I will never forget it because I came close to losing my job over it. I was a hotel VP of operations and my headquarters hotel had been built “to code” ten years earlier than the event. I had heard from my employees that they had seen children that were able to put their head through the railings on the top floor of the hotel. As the hotel manager, I had posed funding for a safety feature to be installed two years in a row and been turned down. Their position was that we had no proof and they were in compliance because they had built the hotel “to code” at the time of construction. This code had been changed since then, but they didn’t feel responsible. As it happens, I was exiting the elevator one day and actually witnessed a child who had not only put his head through the rails but had his whole body through, playing on them with nothing to protect him from falling 9 floors down. I will never forget how it felt to witness that scene. Our bellman Jim, was with me. We coaxed the child into safety and located the parents who were in their room unaware. I immediately went downstairs to my office and contemplated what to do. Within a short window of time, I had written a letter explaining what I had witnessed and explained that I needed emergency capital to address the problem immediately. A week later I got a call from my supervisor who told me that he understood why I wrote the letter, but that putting our owners “on notice” had forced their hand so I had caused them to have to spend money that was unbudgeted and could no longer defend non-action. He told me that he should fire me for putting our owner in such a position from a liability standpoint, but because he knew I meant well, he was not going to do so. In truth, I was fully prepared to take the fall and knew I could lose my job. I had weighed the situation carefully and forced them intentionally because I knew I couldn’t live with the death of someone’s child on my conscience. Today, looking back, I would do it again. But was the owner doing something unethical? Not according to law, because they were in compliance with code at the time of construction and were ignorant of the problem until I put the incident into writing. But would I be unethical, to have witnessed such a danger and not report it?

So, what do you think? Was I wrong to do what I did? One could argue that I had a fiduciary responsibility to protect the financial assets of the owner of the hotel and another level of responsibility to the management company I worked for as well. But I also had a personal responsibility to the parents and children of visitors to our hotel too because I was now a personal witness to a tangible danger to their safety. It was a no-win scenario on every level, no matter how I thought about it. It was a true dilemma with risks in every option I contemplated. Yet, I also remember it being easy in the moment. I was clear in my gut about what I had to do. And in the end, it was who I was as a person for the two decades before that saved me.

Which brings me to the point again. Tiltology and the Tilt system of self-discovery is not about black and white issues. Nor right and wrong. Ethics and character are about doing the best you can given the existing limitations of being human. And knowing you won’t always get it right, nor will you be right in the eyes of everyone else. Any time we claim being right, there will be someone wiser who can poke holes in our reasoning and conclusions. Or help us see a situation where what we decide in one context could actually be unethical in another.

The ethos of who we are holistically

The ethos of who we are holistically (our character) is what helps us be seen as a person who is most often seen as “ethical” (or any of the positive traits for that matter). Not whether we get everything right all the time. What we are wise to seek in each moment is to approach our decisions from a point of humility and assess what’s the best thing to do right now, given the current context and what we believe to be true right now. Then stay open what we are yet to learn later.