Why Your Moral Compass May Be Misleading You

Warning: Today’s blog has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween or the slutty nurse costume. I am just wondering where these people work.

This year has been transforming for me. I can’t say I’ve transformed into anything great (yet anyway). But I’ve had time to think about what I’ve learned about people and relationships. I hope that by sharing some of these things with you, I can help you in some way. If not, keep quiet and hope for a Disney or 90210 story next time.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize: It is easy to transfer your moral compass onto others, but not in the way you think. It is one of those things you don’t realize until it’s been painfully made obvious that you should.  When you have dearly held beliefs, whether it is about how to treat people or how to interpret your surroundings, your natural inclination is to believe those around you see life through the same lens. It’s not something you consciously think about. It just happens and because it does, you may find yourself ill prepared for situations that arise.

If you create a community, regardless of where it may be, you view others actions and thoughts in the same context as your own. If you are always fair and loving, you will see others as the same way. You may feel you are in a completely supportive environment, when in truth you are transferring your supportive nature onto others, even if it is undeserved.

When you misunderstand other people’s motives and/or moral compass, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You may feel protected. That you are surrounded by a sense of fairness, opportunity and honesty; when in truth, none of these things exists. At least with that person. When you view life through one lens, your own, you may not realize that you are transferring your rules, your beliefs, onto someone else. Someone who may ultimately hurt you.

I have a wonderful friend who is a single mother. She works hard to support herself and wants nothing but the best for her daughter. She is one of the most generous and trusting people you will ever meet. Because of her altruistic nature, she views others as similarly trust worthy and kind-natured.  She allowed her moral compass to interpret those around her. As a result, she loaned money she set aside for her daughter, to a “best friend” who ultimately had little intention of paying her back.  She assumed that because she would never borrow money unnecessarily or without full intention of repayment, her friend would not either. Unfortunately, it was only after the friendship was broken and after many years, that my friend even saw a portion of the money returned to her.

As a leader, it’s important to give your team members a fair opportunity to achieve their goals and address performance issues. You cannot exaggerate the importance of early, clear and continual communication. As we’d often talk about in my former corporate life, “seek to understand”.  Often times, team members fail because of the leader not being clear in their communication and expectations. If you assume a team member is purposely not behaving in the way you expect, you will be wrong a significant portion of the time. And- if you assume their leader is doing the things you’d expect, because of the way you conduct your business, you may be entirely wrong. You can’t view people, places and things through your moral compass alone. When you do, you are potentially harming yourself and others.

In summary:

  • Don’t assume everyone has the same moral compass you do. When you look at each situation and person through your own personal lens, you may under-estimate risk.
  • Don’t put blind faith in people, even if they are in a position of influence/power. They may not conduct themselves the way you do or have the same motives. Judge each situation on its individual merits, not based on blind trust.
  • Believe in the good of man-kind and don’t become completely distrusting of people. Just realize that interpreting events/people as mirror images of you can create risk and misunderstandings. It can also lead to you improperly judging people and missing the opportunity to know a true friend.


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