Daniel Goleman summarizes three kinds of support for ethical thinking: vertical support, horizontal support, and wakeup calls. Vertical support is derived from your mentors and teachers. Whom do you respect? What kinds of things did you absorb about ethics from these influential persons?
Horizontal support is derived from your peers. How are the people around you behaving? What kind of ethical standards do they embrace?
Finally, wakeup calls are those situations in which someone you know does something very bad or very good. These situations cause you to ponder, “oh, how terrible. How could she have succumbed to that behavior?” or “I never imagined he possessed that level of intelligence and moral fortitude. That truly took wisdom and courage.” Additionally, depending on your relationship to that person, in a bad situation you may need to ask, “did I do anything to contribute to this?”
Although one could contend it comes partially under vertical support, I think a person’s spiritual or religious convictions are ethics-support tools. Most people hold a philosophy of life that is driven by spiritual or religious convictions. Consequently, this life dimension is very important to a person’s ethics support.
I see great value in regularly reviewing all four of these ethics-support tools within your life. Working together, they provide a measure of checks and balances. Anytime they are in conflict, that can create serious ethical dilemmas. For example, if your vertical support says one thing but your horizontal support says something different, then you will be in conflict. Likewise, if your spiritual or religious convictions say one thing, but your wakeup call does not seem to fit that paradigm, then you will be in conflict.
The ultimate goal—hopefully arrived at sooner rather than later—is to take a holistic approach that integrates these four areas. Only when this happens can you truly say that you have achieved wholeness. Moreover, when it comes to ethics, wholeness is compulsory.
When was the last time you reviewed your ethics-support tools? Maybe it is time for an update.