Developing relationship concept: Construction machines building up with letters the word relationship, isolated on white background.

~ Jone Johnson Lewis

I’ve been looking over pieces I wrote near the beginning of my Leadership career.  I often come across things where I’ve changed my mind substantially.  And I often come across things where I am surprised by the insights I had!

Some people have called Ethical Culture “a religion of relationships,” where our Supreme Principle (rather than a Supreme Being) is about how we interact with other people.

Self-help and psychology talk a lot about how to recognize and fix relationship problems, but people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what makes an ethical relationship.  In Ethical Culture, the basic principle of relationship is acting to bring out the best, the inherent worth and dignity, the uniqueness of the other person.  But beyond that definition of “ethicality,” what does an ethical relationship take to build and maintain?

Back in the 1990s, when a president was impeached for lying about a personal relationship, I mused about this topic.  It was also a time when I was in a new relationship, myself, and thinking about it very personally. This, with a few edits, is the list I came up with then.  I still think it’s applicable!

  1. Ethical relationships require making and keeping commitments.  (This is one reason why “vows” or “pledges” are usually at the center of marriage ceremonies.)
  2. Ethical relationships are built upon mutual respect and mutual caring.
  3. Ethical relationships require truth telling and honesty.
  4. Ethical relationships do not take advantage of the other for selfish political, economic, or sexual gain.
  5. In our intimate relationships, sexuality is a gift to be valued and treasured, not used to take advantage of others, but to enrich our lives.
  6. Ethical relationships have room for forgiveness, when those who have failed or erred not only regret what they’ve done, but make amends to those they’ve hurt.
  7. Ethical relationships are more difficult or easier to build and maintain, depending on the relationships we have seen up close in our childhood and the lessons we’ve learned, often unconsciously, from those.
  8. Ethical relationships, in the end, are rewarding – and the pain caused by unethical relationships is usually and eventually borne by all those involved.

As we focus this month on Beloved Community, next month on Commitments, and the month after that on Becoming, these are ideas worth examining in our own behavior in relationships with partners, wider family, friendships, and chosen community.

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