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Moral Obligations

In reference to one of my clients, my largest client – a Fortune 100 corporation – I recently described my working environment in this column earlier this month (See Issue #307), touching on how my workstation is outfitted. No one is presently assigned to the cubicle on my left, right next to my cubicle. A few days ago I noticed someone had stored in that empty cubicle perhaps 10 or more cases of Gatorade in various flavors, 24 bottles to a case. I assumed they must have been there for a big event happening in the building in the near future. Since there were so many bottles, and they looked rather inviting, I was mildly tempted to break open the plastic wrapper holding the individual cases together and help myself to a bottle. But I did not do so, for at least two reasons. One reason is because I already own cases of Gatorade which I have stored in various locations (though not at the office), and I do have, right under my desk, several cases of Perrier sparkling water, not to mention the fact that my client plies us all with plenty of things to drink for free in the cafeteria nearby. So it’s not as if I am at a loss for options of things to drink.

But there was another reason I did not take a bottle of Gatorade. I didn’t help myself to a bottle of Gatorade because I was not invited to do so. They were not mine, and I had no idea who was in charge of them or why they were there. I only knew that they did not belong to me. Taking one would have been akin to stealing, and even if my doing so probably would not have caused a problem for the event they were reserved for (meaning, they probably had more than enough bottles on hand), I felt that it would be dishonest to take a bottle without first being offered one.

The next day, as I passed by that neighboring cubicle, I glanced in the direction of the cases of Gatorade. I noticed someone had ripped a hole in the top of the plastic wrap of one of the cases and removed a bottle. Later that same day, I noticed what appeared to be two more bottles missing. I have no idea who took those bottles. Perhaps they had permission to do so. Perhaps not. But seeing that someone else had already helped himself (or herself) to one or more bottles, the thought occurred to me that since someone else was doing it, perhaps I won’t cause a big problem if I now do it, too.

But I did not.

Why not?

Because I believe I have a moral obligation to do the right thing. In my mind, not taking a bottle without permission was the right thing. Again, it was a moral obligation I have; a moral code I take seriously.

We get to choose to embrace what I have been referring to as “moral obligations” in many areas of our life. Here is one possible moral obligation you may wish to ponder for your own life where self-development is concerned.

The Physical Dimension: Do you exercise regularly, consistently? Why or why not? Whatever the reason, what if you came to believe that regular, consistent exercise was not just a wise thing to do for your health and fitness, but was a moral obligation? Perhaps you’ve never thought about it that way before? What might happen if you embraced exercise as a moral imperative? That may sound like a radical idea to you. It may even be something that sounds absurd. A moral obligation? Says who? I exercise if I want to, not because I am supposed to! That is how the thinking might go for many people.

Let me offer a justification for adopting this viewpoint.

Your health determines your limitations, and thus, your freedoms. Good health means you live a productive life and will be capable of making greater contributions to your friends, your family members, your associations, even to society. Good health means you can play with your grandchildren when you are older. They will remember that. Good health means that you will have fewer aches and pains, fewer debilitating diseases, less likelihood of unnecessary injuries, a greater overall quality of life. You’ll be happier with robust health and thus you won’t be a burden on others, you won’t be sullen, or morose, or surly. You will be pleasant to be around. You will have energy and vigor and drive.

Your body is like a machine in many respects. Just as a mechanical machine needs regular maintenance to operate optimally, your physical body needs regular attention. Whether you focus on flexibility through stretching or yoga, cardiovascular work through running, swimming, jump rope, treadmill work, or dancing (Zumba, aerobic, etc), strength exercises such as weightlifting, or hand-eye coordination through activities such as racquetball, engaging in such fitness activities will make an impact on your life, even as you do, inevitably, age with the passage of time.

Embracing the reality that taking care of your health and fitness is a moral obligation is a wise world-view to embrace.

Now embrace it!

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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