In this article, I will provide a brief introduction to the practice of integral ethics.
One way to define the word “integral” is as “comprehensive.” Therefore, the benefit of taking an integral approach to the ethical dilemmas we may face is that an integral approach allows us to honor the complexity of these situations. When we make decisions that embrace and honor complexity, we are more likely to experience positive outcomes for both us and the other people in our world.
The integral ethical-decision making model and process that Dr. Tim Black and I developed, with guidance from Ken Wilber, facilitates the wise embrace of complexity by parsing ethics into four key domains that correlate to the interior and exterior of reality, as well as its individual and collective aspects. Analyzing ethics in this way gives us ethics itself, as well as morals, behaviors and laws. The relationship between these four domains is perhaps best understood with the assistance of visuals, as follows:
The integral ethical-decision making process then guides you through the four domains shown above -- of behaviors, laws, ethics and morals -- by using four different lenses in order to make an optimal decision in resolution of any ethical quandary you may be facing. Here are the lenses:
Here is an example of using the four views to help navigate an ethical challenge:
I worked as an Employee Assistance Counselor in a context that required me to keep in mind multiple clients. For example, I needed to not only include my immediate client sitting in front of me, but also the client’s employer who is a client of my employer. This created a complex stakeholder arrangement which could lead to tricky ethical decision-making.
I had a client who brought up a case of bullying by her manager. This client was regularly being “put down” in a way that she experienced as demeaning. She had become depressed and her health was suffering as she was eating less and sleeping more fitfully. She wanted to speak up for herself in a straightforward way, but feared that doing so may jeopardize her job. The situation was serious enough that she had started looking for other work, but had not yet been successful in finding alternative employment.
Trained in social justice and advocacy work, my first desire — coming from the moral virtues view — was to do what I thought was right. The client ought to be able to go to her human resources department, file a complaint, and something ought to be done by Human Resources to reprimand the manager. Right?
However, in looking through the systems-regulatory view to see the system of which both she and I were members, the reality became clear of how difficult this could be to enact without putting both of us at considerable risk. After working through all four lenses, I thus decided to focus on the power of relationship — the “relational-contextual view” — to assist this client. I surmised that by building a strong relationship based on mutual trust, unconditional positive regard, and “mattering”, I could support her in maintaining her self-esteem as a moral agent in this challenging situation. Also, I could support her by giving her specific behaviors — called the “video-camera view” because behavior is observable – to enact around assertiveness and non-violent communication that she could use to “test the waters” with her manager.
I trust the above overview of the integral ethical-decision making model, as well as an example of the model being applied, will help you to make decisions that reflect your sense of what is the right thing to do, amidst the challenges of your life!