Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ethics versus Morality

I was reading some Buddhist teachings on morality recently. Morality is a foundation of Buddhism. At the basic level, one should not harm others. Beyond this, the next level is to help others. I started thinking about this and how it compares to ethics.

So is there a difference between ethics and morality? Many people might think the two are the same concept. When one digs a little deeper, it will become apparent that they aren’t.

The PMI statement on ethics is straight forward; represent yourself truthfully (including your PMP certification), don’t lie about your qualifications in business, and don’t become involved in any conflict of interests. Nothing new here, is there?

Morality goes deeper then this. Think about “do no harm.” I recently came across a situation where a project manager was leaving their company and the project they were leading. They didn’t do anything to help the organization prepare for their departure beyond spending a couple of hours getting the new project manager up to speed on the day they left.

From a PMI perspective they didn’t violate any ethics, but from a Buddhist perspective, they violated do no harm. They could have better prepared the organization and the new PM for the transition. The project was impacted and the organization was harmed because of their lack of action.

So while ethics are important and a good starting point, a good project manager must go beyond this and use morality in their actions.

1 comment:

Andy Brandt said...

I'm not entirely convinced this is really the division line between morality and ethics. An encyclopedic description of that difference is "Ethics differs from morality in that morality allows more leeway for individual interpretation whereas ethics tend to be more global.".

In this sense Buddhist approach is more ethics than morality, because in our tradition laws of cause and effect (karma) are as objective and impartial as gravity.

In the given case, BTW, I wouldn't also say that the PM harmed the organization - because organization is not a sentient being and cannot suffer. But I understand it as a shorthand for some degree of suffering brought by his inconsiderate behavior to his colleagues. And the new PM of course.

In any case it's good to remember, as you write, that our beliefs on right and wrong apply also to our work.