Conflict and Ethics: Where does your allegiance lie?

We're about to discuss a thought experiment that highlights various motives in life that can explain why conflict and opposition are often unavoidable. We will explore an interesting hypothesis that explores various different allegiances a person may align themselves with during their lifetime. No agenda, no taking sides, just some food for thought to ponder during these fascinating times.

But before we discuss this hypothesis, let us begin with a hypothetical scenario. Unfortunately, you have just been informed on the phone that a loved one is in critical condition in hospital. You rush to your car and proceed to the hospital immediately. Do you think that you'll honour the speed limit? Will you disregard the law at times due to this extraordinary situation you're in? Facing a realistic possibility that you'll never see your loved one alive again. For many of you, that would be a simple yes.

I want you now to imagine that moment in more detail. Really think about the exact moment you turn out of your driveway and find yourself on a straight road with a 30mph sign insight. And ponder the moment you decide to put more pressure on the accelerator as you're internally justifying this action: nothing else matters now, my loved one is in danger.

That ethical agreement you have just made with yourself to justify this action is exactly what we're going to discuss today. This internal perspective of what people determine to be right and wrong at any given moment to justify a decision on a range of different subjects (Politics, Relationships, Social etiquette etc) can sometimes be the reason why conflict is unavoidable. Understanding that we can define these positions, which will offer us the clarity to see the motives people will inherently have, will enable us to navigate this world much more effectively.

The ethical Service Spectrum

And this is exactly how we're going to define those positions. Check out the following spectrum to determine exactly where one's allegiance falls ethically at any given time. Taking our above hypothetical scenario with the speed limit situation, I've placed an arrow on the scale where I feel the action of breaking the law in this scenario would appropriately fit. (I'll explain exactly what these 3 categories mean shortly) but understanding that a person who is rationally trying to argue their point from this position will fundamentally have a hard time trying to convince anybody on the other end of this scale with a different ethical allegiance that their actions were justified.


Service to Self.png

Starting on the far left of our scale we begin by exploring the Service to Self category. Egoism is our first stance - This is the process of placing oneself at the core of one's world with no concern for others. This doesn't have to be a fixed position that reflects one's position in ALL walks of life. Perhaps somebody has just found out that their company is letting them go due to the fact that their position can be outsourced by a cheaper Asian workforce. In this moment, the man becomes disillusioned by disloyal business practices and for the remaining 4 weeks of his employment, he decides to exploit certain generosities afforded to him. Claiming more company expenses (fuel, food and supplies etc) than he actually needs, simply to enhance his own wellbeing during this unfortunate time. fuck em' They're just a greedy corporate machine, I owe em' nothing. Service to Self is the appropriate category in which our friend has now settled upon his decision.

Service to Others? - You're certainly not thinking of your colleagues if one decided to exploit the generous expenses that have been provided to the team. Perhaps the company would have to remove such a system now due to the clear exploitation at play. How do you feel this conversation would go with a colleague if he pulled over this guy in question?

"Dude, you haven't lost your job, I have! You can afford your mortgage - How can you judge me?!"

No matter the rationality of this situation (An employee has stolen company resources for his own benefit) this discussion will not often result in a rational conclusion. Just conflict and disagreement due to the differing positions on our ethical scale.

And Service to a Higher Purpose? - What about the business? Do you think our friend in this situation cares that this decision made to lay him off had removed a substantial amount of expenses to the company expenditure? Ultimately assisting them in their efforts to clear their debt? Almost certainly not.

So how do we deal with these ethical battlefields? Where rationality is often absent. This is the world of politics and diplomacy. A battle to see where one's opposition is on this scale and the ability to relate to their opponent's position to reach a resolution. If you can't sympathise with how that person aligned themselves on the scale in the first place, you're destined to fail. Now that doesn't mean you need to accept their position or give in to their demands. But the other person needs to understand you're aware of their position. Only then can you attempt the second phase; getting them to understand your position. At any point in this process, you may fail. Either due to your inability to properly explain your situation, or their inability to be open minded to someone else's perspective. This is where conflict is inevitable, you can do everything right, but fundamentally diplomacy requires everyone to be onboard with this concept. 

If both parties can come to understand one another's stance, then they can begin to seek a resolution immediately. Compromise may often be required by either side to reach a positive outcome. But depending on how far away the issue is split across this spectrum by either side will determine the complexity and scale of compromise required by a single side to reach a positive solution.

Now before we move on to the next category, it's important to understand why somebody might make decisions in Service to Self positions. Why would somebody be utterly selfish in their actions? Survival. And this isn't often always a bad thing. In various cases, Service to Self is a critical component to success. In an environment that doesn't offer safety, resources, opportunity or knowledge, one might have to become ethically self-centered in order to enhance their position and improve their impoverished lifestyle.

We're finally looking outwards towards our family, community or nation as we move along the spectrum. We're now going to take a look at politics and how we can use this tool as a guide to understanding someone's ethical position. When you lean towards a political stance, your ethical agreement to justify this political position will place you somewhere along our scale. Different beliefs of yours may find themselves scattered along the spectrum, but too much inconsistency and space between these beliefs are a sure sign of illogical reasoning and an unorganised mind. A strong foundation of ethics will typically find decisions close to one another along the spectrum.

Now it's important to clarify. Many external factors will be in play which will determine exactly why somebody will find themselves occupying a specific ethical position (Either knowingly or unknowingly) Cultural pressure, Education, Finances, Identity politics, Social pressure, The media and many more factors will be in play to determine where one ultimately settles their ethical flag.

So let's imagine a man by the name of Paul who lives in a small town. He has worked and committed most of his living life within the boundaries of this small town environment. He is friendly, highly respected by the community, knows most residents by name and has a respectable loyalty to his nation. Now when Paul discusses his political beliefs, they typically stem from an agreement around this area of our spectrum:

Now, what if the Government was faced with a situation in response to increased international pressure. And plans to shut down the local town coal mine to honour their clean energy policies? Paul now contemplates the impact of this policy and the immediate ramifications towards his town's wellbeing. His friends will lose their jobs, the local economy will suffer immensely due to its dependence on the coal industry, it's just bad news all round. Paul is justifiably angry and concerned.

On the above image, the red area shows the approximate range of effect that this policy could ethically impact for somebody living in this town. If Paul's political position was fixed within the Service to a Higher Purpose instead [Green Arrow] his ability to accept the policy and understand the resulting consequences wouldn't be as problematic. In this case, his ethical allegiance would be towards humanity and the reduction of harmful practises towards the planet. While he could understand the community's suffering, he could not ethically disagree with a decision to abolish the town's coal mine for the greater good.

The Virtue Test

Now this is where it gets tricky, and the true virtue of man is tested. Let us say, that our man Paul is now a cosmopolite - An ideological stance that all human beings belong to a single community, based on a shared morality. Paul is now firmly on the right of our scale. He donates money regularly to international charities, travels often around the world, speaks multiple languages and has a distaste for patriotism. But Paul works in the local coal mine. Paul didn't allow his ethics to dictate his ability to find employment, he simply acted upon the convenience with little to no thought.

Now faced with the consequences of his Government's decision to close down the mine. We will now see exactly how Paul faces this challenge with his actions. Paul either stands by his ethics and accepts the position he has stood for with virtue or he can falter due to the nature of the problem and resort to conventional survival tactics to regain his wellbeing by swinging back to the left. This is a test of man that life provides to many regularly; to stand resolute during dark times by honouring your word and your ethical position. And if you fail this test? It means you had no business believing what you claimed you stood for, so why were you there in the first place? Your stance was likely a mask to hide your inherent Service to Self or to simply gain respect from peers who differ in opinion. Hypocrisy is one of the surest ways to spot a person who is unjust and lacks an internal structure of critique and clarity. The life of a hypocrite is simple, uncritical and is worthy of no respect.

We've now moved to the final category in our ethical service spectrum. A humbling position where one aligns their ethical foundation on forces beyond their own personal interests. This begins with a complete self-submission to the collective vision of humanity; with political interests now fully aligned with the progression of our species.

When we move right we finally reach the walls at the end of our spectrum. This is a point of complete surrender to the forces of nature; our existence and purpose is selfless and often aligns with a belief of the gods or a cosmological vision. Here you will typically find the most devoted followers of numerous religions across our entire planet.


So what can we do with this analysis of ethics? How does compartmentalising one's morals into groups help us day to day? After all, aren't ethics subjective? Is there an objective right and wrong? We will touch upon this in Part 2 of our Conflict and Ethics series as I'll attempt to address this very point. But the first part of this series provided you with the tools to observe and understand when somebody might be approaching a problem from a specific segment of the ethical spectrum. By looking at how they internally justify their position we can attempt to better understand their actions and use this information to reach the outcome that we seek.

If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own.
— Henry Ford

The founder of Capable Men. 

Currently operating personal projects while he simultaneously attempts to develop the Capable Men platform. John served five years in the British army, with a tour of duty in Afghanistan before eventually departing the forces to begin a career in the private security sector.

John attended several private protection courses dealing with security strategy, close-quarters combat training, firearms and advanced driving. This new profession took him worldwide Including the protection of government assets in South America, VIP tasks on the Côte d'Azur and security work within the French Alps.

His interests include global affairs, philosophy, hiking, sports and fitness.