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(Note: This is a re-edited version of an article Mayr posted earlier this year).
Upon reflecting on the many teachings I learned from reading Zen Master Hanh’s book, Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day (2012); one of the most significant discoveries for me was realizing that most people were feeling just like me – burnt out from dealing with pressures from work, expectations from colleagues, commitments to loved ones, financial obligations, relationship issues, and so forth. As tensions continued to build, more and more of us were unable to operate at full capacity. For example, because many individuals are currently operating with low tolerance levels, more often than not, they are inclined to respond quickly with short explosive fuses that tend to result in destructive, and in extreme cases, engage in acts of violent conduct.
People that react from fear and panic, initially respond from a fight or flight state of mind. That is when the reptilian part of the brain takes over which instinctively goes into survival mode. It is from this heightened state that typically many individuals engage in behavior with little or no regard for ethical outcomes. Their only objective in operating from this attitude is a successful outcome. In other words, irrational responses are more likely to occur when decisions are made quickly from an extreme emotional mental state, rather than allowing a moment to think of a situation appropriate response before taking action.
There are exceptions, of course, when life and death situations occur. A split second decision in an emergency may be crucial. Under these conditions taking a moment to think rationally may not be an option. However, in other instances, when pressure is mounting in an individual’s personal or business life, in addition to their feeling that the world is in complete disarray, the sensation of hopelessness can prompt some individuals to behave irrationally; giving in to unethical or destructive behavior.
It seems logical, that especially during those times when we feel that: (a) the world seems unfair, (b) an escalating amount of respected leaders are caught behaving unreasonably, and (c) more people than not, seem to be engaged in misconduct, that is when we really need to get involved and help make positive changes. Not just in our immediate environment, collectively, we also need to become more cognizant of our contributions as a global family. In other words, take accountability when we make mistakes, bad judgement calls, or hurt others. It also requires that we engage in behavior that reflects mindful, responsible citizenship in our business affairs and home environments.
One way to achieve this is to help cultivate an ethical climate by making conscious choices to conduct ourselves reasonably with common sense and compassion for others. For example, when we encounter people or an institution engaged in unethical behavior like cheating, stealing, lying, or illegal conduct, we are faced with one of three choices: (a) expose the behavior, (b) ignore the behavior, or (c) participate and condone the behavior. If we choose to expose the behavior, we risk being chastised as whistle blowers, but by courageously moving forward we can help achieve ethical outcomes. If we ignore the behavior, we avoid the risk of not fitting in as a player at the corrupted culture and save everyone involved the embarrassment of getting caught. However, by keeping silent, we are helping to enable unethical behavior. If, on the other hand, we choose to condone the behavior, even participate in it, we are not only contributing to an unethical culture, we are gambling that we will not get caught or face the consequences for engaging in misconduct.
This is where ethics comes into play. In my publication, Ethics in the Real World (2013), I explained that individuals who make the best ethical choices do not engage or support strategies that include lying, cheating, stealing, or illegal conduct. The truth is, most people are not interested in conducting business with others they do not trust. Furthermore, leaders who lack ethics and cultivate a culture of fear are not likely to earn respect from their staff or the community for that matter (Berry, 2013). When individuals, whether in respected positions of power or not, use tactics of intimidation, illegal conduct, misdirection, or get caught in blatant lies, they jeopardize tarnishing their reputation and credibility permanently.
Thich Nhat Hanh (2013), however, compares all our emotions to weather events—they blow in, remain for a time and move on. He suggests that if we stop all our thinking when these storm fronts of strong emotions develop (and I will add “refraining from verbalizing and directing toxicity towards others” to this list), we can help prevent fueling the fire. Instead, we can choose to apply mindful practices like breathing and walking strategies as coping techniques, that will not only calm down our breath when we are feeling out of control, they also serve to help calm the body and mind (Hanh, 2012).
The truth is, we all have strengths and weaknesses and will continue to face many temptations throughout our journey in life. Although it may take only one person to help shift a corrupted culture, it still requires others to follow suit. Taking all this information into consideration can help us understand more clearly why it makes sense that during those times when we are feeling most vulnerable, confused, and overwhelmed with emotions, that including a component of ethics in the decision making process can help us achieve outcomes we are content to live with.
That’s it for this post. Until next time … Be mindful and stay organized!
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Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful. – Thich Nhat Hanh
Berry, M. A. (2013). Ethics in the Real World. USA: Kindle Direct Publishing.
Hanh, T. N. (2012). Work: How to find joy and meaning in each hour of the day. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.