Cultivating Ethical Fortitude – the building better agenda.

Throughout the course of recorded history, the aftermath of major catastrophic events such as pandemics, wars, and famine have always played a pivotal role in interrogating the foundations of society, the sustainability of its material basis, the role of expertise, our social codes, and behavioural norms.

The bubonic pandemic known as the ‘Black Death’, devastated Western Eurasia and North Africa in the early 14th century. It was the deadliest epidemic to date, killing more than 30 percent of the population. Because the pestilence was only a touch away, isolation and self-preservation were necessary. However, many courageous medical professionals and community members lay down their lives to care for the sick and dying. The Benedictine sisters from the Saint-Croix Abbeys in particular, having no fear of death, tended to the sick while exercising forbearance and extreme care in replacing each other on the front line as they too were struck by the plague.

Although the bravery of the Benedictine sisters is inspirational, it is certainly not unique. It speaks to the centuries of ethical fortitude practiced by civilizations from one disastrous event to the other.

Ethical fortitude is the quality that allows individuals to maintain their moral convictions and stick to one’s ethical values. It is the strength of character required to do what is right, even in the most difficult and trying of times.

Facing a world of continuous, overlapping disruptions, societies are recognising the need for ethical fortitude in the rebuilding of a sustainable future. Today, communities around the world are navigating the severe and far-reaching effects of the colossal Covid-19 pandemic, which has placed millions of livelihoods at risk. The ripple effects of COVID-19 are compounded by sky-rocketing unemployment rates, geo-political tensions and malfeasance, interest rate hikes that are set to continually increase, and global supply chain disruptions which have resulted in lifetime-high inflation rates.

According to a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in crimes such as cybercrime, fraud, and domestic violence. The report notes that crime rates and lawlessness is exacerbated due to displaced workers causing increased inequality and poverty in affected societies. This in turn leads to a rise in acquisitive crimes to replace lost income and livelihoods.

In these difficult and uncertain times, it can be tempting to abandon our ethical fortitude in favor of more expedient or convenient options. This might mean compromising our values to achieve short-term goals or turning a blind eye to unethical behaviour in others. However, this can have serious negative long-term consequences, both for ourselves and for those around us.

The effects of traumatic events touch some groups of people more directly than others. These wounds have an impact on our collective identity and could have spiritual consequences. The social fabric of communities can break apart if efforts are not made to reunify after tragedy, just as an individual can sever their connection to both themselves and the environment around them.

So then what do we do? We play our role in reinforcing the moral compass of society by cultivating ethical fortitude!

These are several strategies that can help us strengthen our moral resolve.

Defining our values: to act with ethical fortitude, we first need to understand what we stand for. This means taking the time to clarify our values and thinking carefully about what matters most to us.

Developing self-awareness: being honest with ourselves. This entails being ready to admit our own shortcomings and prejudices and seeking external input. By doing this, we can improve our understanding of our own motivations and improve the quality of our decisions.

Building a support network: no one can maintain ethical fortitude alone. It is important to surround ourselves with people who share the same values and can offer support, guidance, and encouragement when we need it. This might mean seeking out mentors or joining a community of like-minded individuals.

Taking action: ethical fortitude requires us to take action, even when doing so is difficult. This means being willing to speak up when we see something that is wrong and to take responsibility for our own decisions and actions. By doing so, we can lead by example and inspire others to act with similar courage and conviction.

Invest in the ethical fortitude of future generations: it would be pointless to gain massive traction in developing societal high standards of ethical fortitude and not have mechanisms in place to ingrain these learnings into the leaders of tomorrow. There are various ways to do this, one being the “my personal compass” exercise that is tailored for children.  This exercise involves asking children to write about their values and explain why these values are important to them and how they practice them in everyday life. Investing in the ethical fortitude of future generations is important because children are a significant pillar of the building better agenda, and we need to be responsible guardians in equipping our future leaders with the right tools.

Therefore, it is vital, now more than ever before, that we embrace the ‘we before me’ mindset, in efforts of reshaping the moral compass of our global society through developing the virtue of ethical fortitude and molding a morally regenerate future. As Johan Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”.

Ultimately, ethical fortitude requires courage and discipline, but it also offers a number of important benefits such as building stronger relationships, fostering greater trust, and earning the respect of our peers, children, and communities. We can also take pride in knowing that we have acted with integrity, even in the face of adversity.

The practice of cultivating ethical fortitude should be our collective legacy project!

About the author: Lindo Sibiya is an Organisational Ethics Practitioner at The Ethics Institute.