Here's How Having a Moral Guide Will Help Guide You in Business and Life

It'd been twelve hours, but I was still seething. This happens in our line of work so it won't be the first time or the last, but we'd been misled by a potential client, deliberately used for free work and connections, and then jilted at the aisle.

"They're sleazy and weak. The boss is a member of the lucky sperm club. What did you expect? You're not them. You know that and that's enough," my wife argued, shooing the dog off the bed.

"Fuck that. They lied to me. They stole from me. The only way to make this right is to make them suffer," I replied, nodding to the dog to indicate it was all right with me if he wanted to jump back up.

As usual, we saw it differently. I'll freely admit that my wife is more mature than I am. But her view that retribution is inconsistent with how a moral person should act, in my mind, was simply wrong.

My moral code said that the right thing - in this particular case - was vengeance. Hers was forgiveness. And we're both right.

Laws are, more or less, absolute. Judges, juries and lawyers may interpret things differently, but the rules are fairly clear on issues like murder, arson, knocking over liquor stores and the like. If you're religious enough, then the dictates of the Talmud or the New Testament or Sharia law may seem absolute to you.

But moral behavior is not absolute. Societal norms are often designed to encourage certain types behavior among the masses, but they're someone else's definition of moral behavior, not yours.

In other words, my moral code is my moral code - and no one else's matters.

My moral code

My moral code says if anyone you've ever worked with comes to you for help, you help them however you can, no questions asked. But if the shoe is ever on the other foot and they don't reciprocate, they're cut off - forever.

My moral code says that you always help those who bring you joy and are willing to accept you for who you are - but that being related (except for your children) or simply having known each other for a long time means absolutely nothing.

My moral code says that if someone you know needs help, you proactively help them - without being asked. But if they don't appreciate it or treat you the same way, you don't ever help them again.

My moral code says that if the only reason you're doing something is just because you're worried how it might look otherwise, you should do the opposite immediately.

My moral code says that if you realize you made a mistake, you make it right, but you also admit to yourself that you're doing it to assuage your own conscience. Your apology doesn't create any obligation on the other party to forgive you, or to even bother to reply.

And my experience has led me to realize that the foolish thinking most of us had in our teens and early twenties that "your rules are your rules and they don't apply to me" actually turned out to be right. When people tell you to behave a certain way because "it's for the best", they mean it's what's best for them.

Moral codes are relative. Which means morality itself is relative. That doesn't mean our logical destination is anarchy and cannibalism. We have laws to prevent that. It means we're each taking the time to think about what's right and moral to us and we act on it, regardless of whether our actions comply with social norms or flout them.

Your moral code

Your moral code is no more right or wrong than mine. I may judge your actions to be immoral. And if a jury does too, you've got a problem. But in a society that feels like it's in utter free fall, everyone having a moral code that they've thought through and live by would go a long, long way.

So rather than all of us wondering how we're supposed to behave and then worrying what others will say if we don't perform as expected, why not instead take the time to know what rules we want to live by and then consistently stick to them?

My wife would let our scumbag would-be client off the hook, and because it conforms to her view about forgiveness, she'd be absolutely right in doing so.

My moral code instructs me to upend their goals and plans, and while I may waste time and political capital calling in chits that could be better used elsewhere, given my moral code, I'd be wrong to not do it.

Life is too random and too stressful to not live by something.

You need a code to help guide you. And the guidance only works if the code is yours, truly yours, and only yours. Some may call a person with this approach an ideologue or an absolutist. I call it a fully formed, free thinking individual. And at least on that front, I'm pretty sure my wife would agree.

Published in Inc.

Bradley Tusk