Why I Developed Ethical Individualism Theory
Before becoming a rabbi, I owned a registered investment advisory firm in Portland, Oregon. I counseled clients on one of their most valuable assets: money. To do this job well, the advisor must gain each client's trust. Trust does not come easily to any human being, and this is particularly true when it involves someone’s hard-earned life savings. They need to feel that you truly understand them as a unique individual, not just a number or another item on a list of clients.
Strong ethics is the path to successful relationships with clients. Be honest and sincere, and always put the client’s interests above your own. This relationship does not necessarily require the advisor to sacrifice their interests for the good of their client. The best client-advisor relationships are win-win relationships where both the client and the advisor benefit. This is how I evaluated each potential client who came to me asking for help. If I could not benefit them as a professional, I would not accept them as a client. During the entire tenure of my company, I never had a lawsuit filed against me or even a written complaint from any client— which is very rare in the industry.
After I sold my company and desired to learn more about effective and positive human relations, I became a rabbi— not to become a spiritual advisor only for other Jews, but to learn more about being pro-human. Judaism is founded on two pillars, one of which is to “Love Your Neighbor.” My interpretation of the word “love” in this instruction is “respect.” Becoming a rabbi helped me to understand this as a universal approach to human relations. My rabbinic path became one of reconciliation– bringing individuals together in mutual respect and trust.
It fascinated me to find a connection between my decades of experience building relationships in the world of personal finance and the Jewish teaching to respect everyone. It made me realize that the wisdom I found in Judaism would be helpful to people of all faiths and beliefs. This led me to create a secular human relational philosophy that attempts to optimize how we relate to each other as people with mutual trust, respect, and dignity.
I call this philosophy “Ethical Individualism Theory” or “EIT.”
EIT sets up interactions between people for success and facilitates a win-win relationship with every human being we meet. It creates a positive and ethical environment for beginning any interpersonal relationship by not grouping, judging, or scapegoating anyone by what they look like or where they come from. It denies the existence of collective guilt based on group membership or appearance. Both parties enter the interaction in a position of equality and respect for each other’s unique humanity. Neither human being is better than the other or has more value. There is no hierarchy.
Ethics is a critical part of relationships, just as it is in financial services. Ethics applied to human relations means that the relationship must be symbiotic– both sides need to benefit from the encounter. This engenders trust between both parties and can be achieved by approaching every individual you meet with the perception that each of you have equal value as human beings.
EIT considers all people to be equal in status as humans. In other words, no one has more value than another, and everyone deserves equality of respect simply by their existing as a multi-faceted individual. This is not a moral judgment, but a consideration of the value of every human life. This equality for every human being, our common humanity, creates a continuous horizontal line of equality for everyone. No human, or group of humans, belongs above or below this horizontal line.
Another ethical guideline with human relations is to recognize that we are each unique, not only members of a group. The word “unique” is often misused; it doesn’t mean special or uncommon, it literally means one of a kind. This is an axiom of human life that all human beings are unique, that no two humans are an exact copy of each other. Like fingerprints, no two people are the same, no matter how similar they may appear. Therefore, not recognizing the uniqueness of every human being is the first step in dehumanizing them. Seeing them only as a member of a group will deny their individuality, and too often leads to denigration and/or demonization.
As a financial professional working with people one-on-one, I learned that everyone I met had a unique financial situation. I had no clients who were exact copies of each other financially over thirty years of practice. It also did not matter what the client looked like either by skin color, gender, religion, etc., or any group they came from. If I gave advice based on their membership in an arbitrary identity group, it would have been malpractice because it may not fit their specific financial situation.
For this same reason, applying collective guilt to any one person is unethical. Collective guilt assigns to innocent individuals an immoral action by someone who may be a member of their group. This is not fair or equitable treatment for any individual. Each person is only responsible for their own actions, not those of any collective.
Ethical Individualism Theory applies ethical guidelines for positive human relations and respect for everyone in pursuit of making the most of all our interactions and relationships. These guidelines may be used by any sector of business or encounter with another person to create a win-win relationship, and, ultimately, allow us to approach every encounter with the curiosity and compassion we all deserve. EIT provides a foundation on which we may build a pro-human relational philosophy that is positive and constructive for all.
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