It’s easy to be kind or loving to someone you like. The challenge is to do so when you have to deal with someone you can’t stand. Why should you bother to be loving toward the contemptuous, the hateful, the miserable, or people who are simply annoying?
The answer, in part, is that being loving toward others simply makes you feel better. Isn’t that reason enough to adopt a loving attitude in everything you do?
It would be narcissistic, though, to say that the only reason to live with ethical intelligence is because it benefits you. This is indeed the case, but there is another good reason: all human beings have an inherent dignity, and your conscious choice to be a loving and kind person is a powerful way to honor that dignity.
Ethical Intelligence: Being Committed to Bring Out the Best in Others
The first four principles of ethical intelligence — Do No Harm, Make Things Better, Respect Others, and Be Fair — may be properly seen as principles of duty, whereas the fifth principle, Be Loving, is an ideal to which we should aspire. You can be faulted for intentionally harming someone, but it’s a stretch to say you’re acting unethically if you’re not loving to everyone you meet (especially the nasty and the unpleasant).
Nevertheless, ethical intelligence is a critical component of being fully human. To be ethically intelligent is to be committed to bringing out the best in others, which happens to bring out the best in you, too. So even if it is not, strictly speaking, ethically required that we be loving and compassionate to all, the ethically intelligent person recognizes it’s important and strives to do so as much as possible.
The Challenge to "Being a Loving Person": Putting It In Practice
The challenge presented by the fifth principle of ethical intelligence is ultimately not the intellectual one of justifying it but the practical one of living by it. Even when you know it’s a good thing to be loving and kind to all, how can you do so with people who appear to have no interest in reciprocating?
In other words, how can you find a way to be a loving person in those situations where it would be much easier to be mean, spiteful, or antagonistic? Although I recognize how supremely difficult it is, here are my humble suggestions on how to do so.
Being Loving in Everyday Life
1. Look at the world through the other person’s eyes. In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, new teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) has each student stand up on his desk and look at the world from a new perspective. This simple exercise has profound implications when it comes to applying the fifth principle of ethical intelligence. It’s not easy to be loving toward the people who push your buttons, but seeing the world the way they do is a huge step in the right direction.
2. It’s usually not about you. What I learned from my experience is that what seemed to be hostility directed toward me and everyone else was actually an expression of their own frustrations. This speaks to one of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: “Don’t take anything personally.” (I was offended by this suggestion until I realized he wasn’t speaking to me directly.)
3. Ask for help. During my workshops, I ask for volunteers to present ethical problems they’re facing, because the collective wisdom in the room can provide solutions they wouldn’t have thought of on their own. Dispassionate observers aren’t emotionally invested in the problem and often come up with creative ways of getting past it. It also helps when someone says, “This happened to me, and here is how I handled it.” It’s good to know you’re not alone.
4. Being kinder to yourself makes it easier to be kinder to others. The converse is also true, as Mark Twain noted: “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”
5. Some people are going to be miserable, no matter what you do. It would be terrific if your best efforts to be kind and compassionate to all prompted others to do the same — but it won’t. Rather than get angry at these people, you’re better off not making enemies and wasting your energy.
I’ve found that having hateful feelings toward people who have wronged me does nothing to them but a lot of damage to me. Better to set those feelings aside and focus on better, more important things.
Dealing with People You Can’t Stand
It’s easy to be compassionate toward people we like. Finding a way to apply the fifth principle of ethical intelligence, Be Loving, to those who rub us the wrong way is a formidable challenge — but not an insurmountable one.
An ethically intelligent response to working peaceably with off-putting coworkers is to look at the world through their eyes. Appreciating the burdens they carry can help us understand why they are unpleasant to be around and may result in a better relationship with them.
Copyright ©2011 by Bruce Weinstein. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
Ethical Intelligence: Five Principles for Untangling Your Toughest Problems at Work and Beyond
by Bruce Weinstein, PhD.
Being ethically intelligent doesn't just mean knowing what is right; it also means having the courage to do what is right. Ethical intelligence may be the most practical form of intelligence there is — and the most valuable. Through numerous real-life examples, Dr. Weinstein applies the principles of ethical intelligence to some of the toughest problems we face and shows how to increase your ethics IQ in every area of your life.
About the Author
Bruce Weinstein, PhD, is the host of “Ask the Ethics Guy!” on Bloomberg Businessweek Online’s management channel, where he also writes an ethics column. He regularly gives keynote addresses to businesses, schools, and nonprofit organizations across the country. Dr. Weinstein is the author or editor of five books on ethics. More information at www.TheEthicsGuy.com
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