What are Values, Morals, and Ethics?

Sections of this topic

    Guest post from Jack Hoban.

    What are Values?

    According to the dictionary, values are “things that have an intrinsic worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor,” or “principles, standards, or qualities considered worthwhile or desirable.”

    However, it is important to note that, although we may tend to think of a value as something good, virtually all values are morally relative – neutral, really – until they are qualified by asking, “How is it good?” or “Good to whom?” The “good” can sometimes be just a matter of opinion or taste, or driven by culture, religion, habit, circumstance, or environment, etc.

    Again, almost all values are relative. The exception, of course, is the value of life. Life is a universal, objective value. We might take this point for granted, but we all have the life value, or we would not be alive. Life is also a dual value – we value our own life and the lives of others.

    What are Morals?

    Moral values are relative values that protect life and are respectful of the dual life value of self and others. The great moral values, such as truth, freedom, charity, etc., have one thing in common. When they are functioning correctly, they are life protecting or life enhancing for all. But they are still relative values.

    Our relative moral values must be constantly examined to make sure that they are always performing their life-protecting mission. Even the Marine Corps core values of “honor, courage and commitment” require examination in this context.

    Courage can become foolish martyrdom, commitment can become irrational fanaticism, honor can become self-righteousness, conceit, and disrespect for others. Our enemies have their own standard of honor, they have courage, and they are surely committed. What sets us apart? Respect for the universal life value sets us apart from our enemies.

    What is Ethics?

    A person who knows the difference between right and wrong and chooses right is moral. A person whose morality is reflected in his willingness to do the right thing – even if it is hard or dangerous – is ethical. Ethics are moral values in action.

    Being ethical id an imperative because morality protects life and is respectful of others – all others. It is a lifestyle that is consistent with mankind’s universal values as articulated by the American Founding Fathers – human equality and the inalienable right to life.

    As warriors it is our duty to be protectors and defenders of the life value and to perform the unique and difficult mission of taking the lives of those acting immorally (against life) when necessary to protect the lives of innocent others.

    When you must kill protecting life it is still hard, but it is moral. Those who kill those not observant of their narrow relative religious, ethnic or criminal values – in other words, kill over relative values – are immoral. A dedication to protecting the life value of self and others – all others – makes the Ethical Warrior different and moral.

    The Definitions in Action — Sample Story: “The Bully”

    If all of that is a little too philosophical, we also created this vignette to explain the terms in a more down-to-earth way. We call it:

    You are a kid in the schoolyard. You see a bully. He thinks he is the “top dog.” That is fine. That perception is a relative value. But when his relative value supersedes the life value of another kid – in other words, when the bully picks on and/or punches the other kid – this is wrong and must be stopped. Here is the rule: relative values, no matter how “great,” cannot supersede the life value.

    You see the bully picking on the other kid. You feel – in your gut – that this is wrong. Congratulations, you are moral. (By the way, most people are moral – they know the difference between right and wrong)

    Now…you see the bully picking on the other kid. You overcome the “freeze,” you overcome the embarrassment, and you go tell a teacher. Congratulations! You are ethical. (Ethics are moral values in action).

    Now…you see the bully picking on the other kid. You overcome the “freeze,” you overcome the fear, and you go to the aid of the kid being bullied. You put yourself at risk. Congratulations! You have the makings of an Ethical Warrior.

    And it doesn’t end in the schoolyard. Almost all problems in our society and the world are caused by bullies – those who would supersede the life value of others with their own relative values. Ethical Marine Warriors counter the bullies.

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    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 763-971-8890
    Read my blogs: Boards, Consulting and OD, and Strategic Planning.