There is a saying, “All actions proceed from philosophy.” Either consciously or subconsciously, people act based upon their core values. If you haven’t clarified your personal philosophy, you may not know what you will do when you need to act — particularly under stress. Philosophical confusion may even cause you to freeze at the most critical time.
The Ethical Warrior is a bit of a philosopher. He or she knows that his or her values, combined with training, will almost certainly drive what he or she does on the street — or on the battlefield.
If this perspective intrigues you, you should know that philosophical terms such as "values," "morals," and "ethics" are used rather imprecisely in our society. But, it is very important to be able to understand the distinctions — particularly if you might be involved in violent or deadly situations.
In order to facilitate the development of the Ethical Warrior while working with the U.S. Marine Corps and law enforcement, we created the following primer on Values, Morals and Ethics:
Values, Morals, and Ethics
Values. According to the Dictionary.com, 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 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 life value. Life is a universal value. We might take this point for granted, we all have the life value, or we would not be alive. Life is also a dual value — self and others.
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-respecting 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, and “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 (we have all heard the saying “honor among thieves”). What sets us apart? Respect for the lives of self and all others sets us apart.
Ethics. A person who knows the difference between right and wrong and chooses right is moral. A person whose morality is reflected in the willingness to do the right thing — even if it is hard or dangerous — is ethical.
Ethics are moral values in action. We strive to be ethical because morality protects life and is respectful of 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 Ethical 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 kill protecting life it is still hard, but it is moral. Those who kill others 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.
If all of that is a little too philosophical, we also created a vignette, called “The Bully,” to explain the terms in a more down-to-earth way.
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. 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 are caused by bullies — those who would supersede the life value of others with their own relative values. We need Ethical Warriors to counter bullies.
We can help people become ethical by encouraging them to act more consistently in accordance with their moral values. That begs the question: “Why wouldn’t they act ethically in the first place?” The answer is simple. They are afraid; or they are embarrassed; or they are philosophically confused; or they simply “freeze” under the stress. So what can we do to help others gain the ability to “do the right thing,” even under great adversity? It is not certain that there is one answer that works for everyone, but there appears to be a formula that works for most people.
The “ethical formula” is: Moral + Physical = Ethical
1.) People benefit from a clarification of their beliefs and a better understanding of how values, morals and ethics actually work.
2.) Physical confidence bolsters moral courage. When you possess physical skills, it is easier to act ethically... even if it never “gets physical.”
When you break it down like this, a methodology for developing Ethical Warriors becomes clearer. Consider a training formula that combines philosophical clarification with martial arts training. You may end up with a wonderful contingent of Ethical Warriors in your organization.