Home demarcates a territory, signals an inside and an outside, provides shelter and security. Ethics draws boundaries, inspires rules, demarcates roles and functions, signals what is to be done and what is to be avoided. Ethics is the home of humans. The Greek word ‘êthos’, which gives birth to the ‘ethics’ term, has also the sense of ‘dwelling.’
The etymology of the word ‘rule’ refers back to the root reg- which means the "movement tracing a straight line." A material and a moral dimension coexist in this notion. "The 'straight line' represents the norm; regula, is 'the instrument for drawing the straight line' that sets the rule. That which is upright is opposed in the moral realm to what is crooked, twisted; now, since upright is equivalent to just and honest, its opposite, crooked and twisted will be identified with treacherous, lying, etc." The ethical dimension is thus in the DNA of ‘rule.’ And ethics is the way a person inhabits the world, and inhabits it with other people. Just as the house demarcates a territory, signals an inside and an outside, gives shelter and security, so ethics draws boundaries, inspires rules, demarcates roles and functions, signals what is to be done and what is to be avoided. Ethics is the home of humans, essential to their living in the world. It is no by accident that the Greek word êthos, from which the term ethics comes, also has the sense of dwelling, habitation.
I propose a few words that, taken together, make up a minimal ethics of behaviour acting as a compass that guides living with others. They are a six key words itinerary scaling as many behaviours: seriousness, respect, loyalty, sincerity, responsibility, integrity.
Seriousness is the prerequisite for building ethical behaviour. It is a basic condition for approaching things and matters with an attitude of regard and care whatever is their magnitude, minor or major. It concerns how things are done, how work is done. It is the getting to the bottom of issues, the avoidance of superficiality and of pretending that nothing is going on, it is the refusal to delegate, to dump problems on others, to act to please someone. Reflexivity, diligence, demeanour is part of it leading one not to react in the face of a problem by wondering what one's own gain or damage would come to one's position. Seriousness refuses to place oneself facing problems by looking at them from the possible benefit perspective, of what can be gained from them. It is also discretion and confidentiality toward tasks that others entrust to us. As an individual's choice, seriousness is also an attitude spreading itself, as well as it can disturb. Too much seriousness on the part of the individual can lead him or her to not let things go and to get to the bottom of any issue to the point of uncovering what one would like to keep concealed and unspoken, hidden in omerta: combines, collusions, cliques, lobbies, favouritism, self-interest... Seriousness is then assessing the effects that our choices may have on others, and it also moderates them, giving weight (pondus) to things. Seriousness does not allow itself to deflect, to short cutting, to respond mechanically and evasively. It shows tact and becomes respectful.
Respect, the art of mutual esteem, is first of all looking carefully, looking back (re-spicere), observing with regard. Respect knows how to assess limits and stick to them, knows the boundaries of one's actions and does not overstep. Above all, respect lays the foundation for the creation of trust, which is a necessary dimension to establish ethical relationships. Creating a trust climate is fundamental work of leadership. If I feel trusted, I feel safe, motivated and enthusiastically engaged. How is trust built? Specifically, by word and the exercise of leadership. Word and power concur to build trust or, on the contrary, distrust, suspicion, mistrust and, therefore, discontent and demotivation. And this represents fertile ground for ethical misconduct. When one speaks, one is always exercising power, and many unethical attitudes are aroused by arrogant, rude, violent, disrespectful use of speech assuming that the other person knows what he or she cannot or is not supposed to know. If trust is broken, here is where reticent behaviour, self-interest-seeking and selfishness come to the fore. If, in order to gain acceptance, leaders lessen day by day their seriousness and become less demanding, they take away their own foundation of authority.
Loyalty is built on trust. Loyalty is bonding, alliance, agreement in view of goals to be achieved and paths to be built together. Loyalty must be cultivated by the one who provides the goals by giving adequate explanations and reasons. In loyalty, the will is committed to an end, to objectives. And the will is this complex faculty implying that the one who wants also obeys to what he or she wants. He and she who wills gives a command to himself or herself and obeys it. The ability to will is important for the person’s edification who knows how to determine himself or herself ethically. If the bond of loyalty, not blind allegiance or flattery, is not put in place, it opens the way for individualistic attitudes, self-defence, entrenchment in one's place. The etymology of loyalty also refers to law and election, to choose: loyalty is a daily choice. The leader, the one who governs and commands, must know how to get being chosen every day as a leader: he or she is not only a leader by his role virtue, but must know how to merit daily confirmation of it in the field. If, in order to be accepted and re-chosen, leaders diminish their seriousness every day and become less demanding, they take away the basis of their own authority. And then one falls into collusion, into the mafia mentality. Mafia behaviour materialises in lobbies, cliques, gangs, complicity, mutual cover-ups, exchanges of favours, the creation of friend-allies and relative enemies. Loyalty then goes hand in hand with sincerity. Sincerity, loyalty and respect lead to a truthful use of words, which do not slander, do not intimidate, do not blackmail. It is these words’ ethical use.
Ethical behaviour needs the transparency of sincerity, of recognising that there is either murkiness and naming it or cleanness and saying it. Sincerity is candour, the art of free speech. It comes close to the parresía virtue, the frankness, the freedom of speech, pivotal to ancient Athenian democracy. Sincerity is not the same as saying everything, it is not pretending and not lying. Sincerity is a clear communication that does not deceive, bamboozle or delude. It is opposed to opacity, to the slime in which slander spreads, words upset poisoning relationships, establishing power on relations, and create distrust. A muddy climate in which corruption can proliferate. Sincerity is also honest acknowledgement of one’s errors, fleeing the self-justification and shifting responsibility mechanisms onto others. Leaders, too, must assume the ability to recognise and bear the mistakes they made. This does not undermine, but rather strengthens a person's authority. Sincerity, loyalty and respect lead to a truthful use of words that do not slander, intimidate or blackmail. The ethical use of the word! The truthful man is the speech hero. Where the word is tampered with in order to manipulate consciences and gain power over others, where truth is mocked and twisted, the 'man of word', i.e., the one who is truthful, who dares a limpid, rigorous word, and is prepared to pay the price, will find himself marginalised. Charles de Montesquieu understood this well in his 'In Praise of Sincerity': “A simple man who has only the truth to say is seen as the public pleasure’s disrupter. One flees from him because he is not liked at all; one shuns the truth he proclaims because it is bitter, the sincerity he professes because it bears only unpleasant fruit, and one fears it because it is humiliating, because it wounds one's pride - one's favourite passion! -, because it is a true painter, showing us deformed as we really are”. The truthful word is the word without mask, indeed it unmasks the power games and the corrupts’ corruption. This courageous word is an expression of personal responsibility.
Responsibility places the individual in a constitutive bond with others. It makes me accountable for myself, my behaviour, my work, my mistakes, to others and to my conscience. I would like to emphasise one dimension of responsibility. Re-spondeo, a verb meaning 'to answer' and from which the term 'responsibility' is derived, also has in itself the meaning of 'to promise'. Spondeo means 'to promise'. In responsibility there is the assumption of a commitment to others and the fulfilment of a promise made. A person with ethical stature is capable of promising and keeping promises. Promise, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, is ‘the memory of the will' and, as such, implies responsibility. Nietzsche states that the history of man who has learnt to promise, giving duration to his will to the point of building histories, bonds, belonging, 'is the long history of the responsibility origin’. Of course, promising is a frail matter. One cannot just promise anything (promise the moon). The excess in promising becomes a lie. Moreover, to promise is always to commit oneself, to be prepared to answer for oneself as for the future. In promising I establish an obligation (to myself: I command myself) and a right (in the recipient of the promise: I oblige myself to him). The promise kept, creates trust and makes the one who has promised trustworthy. It speaks of man's capacity to be in what he says and in what he does: in his words and in his actions. But here we come to the summit of our journey, integrity. Rejoicing in the contentment that comes from knowing that doing good is always also doing good for oneself.
A person has an integrity that makes it possible for thim/her to hold together professional skills, human and relational qualities. Integrity refers to what is whole, uncorrupted, not broken. And therefore, having no duplicity either. Integrity refers to rectitude and correctness, to irreproachability, solidity and consistency. The integral man has a solid inner foundation and is not manipulable by anyone nor exposed to any instability. He is incorruptible. Integrity thus refers to honesty. And honesty, etymologically, recalls honour. The honest person is honoured and praised for himself, even before his actions and the products of his actions. It is also the person who can inhabit himself, who is content with himself. And can rejoice in that contentment coming from the consciousness that doing good is always doing good also to oneself.
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