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Reflections In A Cup: An Ethical Recipe For Success

June 17, 2008
By Stuart Daw


It’s possible to create a good life for yourself in the coffee business, but of course it’s not automatic.

It’s possible to create a good life for yourself in the coffee business, but of course it’s not automatic.

For living the good life in any profession means seeking to gain and to hold rational values, those things necessary to sustain and enjoy life, including, for example, a love, a home, a car, a productive job, friends, family, and financial security, to name a few. The methods we use to achieve these values are known as ethics, or morals. And we can either consciously employ a moral code to guide us, or we can act emotionally, with only an implicit moral code as indicated by our actual behaviour.

Is it possible to be morally perfect in this era of moral relativism, when one’s actions may be only pragmatic and in response to the particular situation at hand – you know, situation ethics, “whatever works for now?”
To most people the possibility of moral perfection might sound ridiculous. Imagine someone bursting into a room and proclaiming him or herself to be morally perfect, without being laughed at. But why would it not be possible as human beings to achieve it, living successfully while being virtuous too? Is it a contradiction in terms? After all, is it not “well known” that to be successful, business people must climb upward over the broken bones of their employees, competitors, and suppliers, kicking, kneeing, and gauging their way to the top?
Or could it be true that, in spite of the cynical skepticism prevalent today, being virtuous may be a precondition for successful living?


Ayn Rand, creator of the Objectivist school of philosophy, identified seven virtues that constitute a recipe for a happy, successful life. While I cannot speak for Objectivism, here in brief is my take on these virtues. And incidentally, I had a little fun by arbitrarily assigning points to each virtue, and scoring myself accordingly. I gave all but the last virtue 13 points, totaling 78, with 22 points going to the seventh and what Rand considered the prime virtue, so 100 total points were possible. Wonder of wonders. I found myself to be imperfect. (How could that be?)

The first five virtues were listed in no particular order, and are as follows:

HONESTY simply means never faking reality. If you evade reality by lying, how can you deal successfully with other people? You can’t expect them to enter your world of unreality, for there would be no basis for communication and mutual understanding. And just in case you are about to give yourself full marks on this one, do you never, ever exaggerate? Be honest, now.

INTEGRITY means establishing a rational set of principles by which to live, and following them ruthlessly. “This above all; to thine own self be true.” If you practice this, as others get to know you they will have a growing respect for the consistency and reliability of your ideas, even though they may disagree with you from time to time.

PRODUCTIVENESS involves creating the values you need for your life, enjoying or exchanging them voluntarily and for mutual benefit with others who have produced some values you desire (always trade upwards, trading your values for yet higher values. Never trade downward). In most transactions involving the payment of money for example, you trade the value of your work (money) for the good or service you purchase, which you value more than the money you are willing to pay, or obviously you wouldn’t pay it.
INDEPENDENCE means making your own way, acting by your own independent, rational judgment, and not being a mere follower. You can’t reasonably expect others to produce the values you want and need, then give them to you gratis. And this applies to ideas too. By refusing to focus and to think independently while merely copying and mouthing the ideas of others, you make yourself into what Rand called a “second hander.”
JUSTICE means expecting to get exactly what you deserve in life through your own effort, no more, no less, and expecting the same rule to apply to others. If you have no moral responsibility to be “your brother’s keeper,” neither should you expect others to have the responsibility for keeping you.
PRIDE does not “goeth before a fall.” It is the emotional sum, the reward you have a right to feel for living a virtuous life. If you have earned the right to be proud through the steady application of the other six virtues, thereby gaining moral perfection, people will look up to you, respect you, and want to follow you too.

RATIONALITY is the seventh and most important virtue, for it precedes and is a precondition for all the others. Moral perfection must begin by having a rational as opposed to an irrational, destructive code of ethics. And so rationality is the cardinal virtue upon which a successful life depends. Only by being rational, applying reason to the facts of reality, can we practice the other important virtues.
Contrary to popular opinion, the great producers of Western Civilization had to be virtuous to achieve as they did, to have people eager to follow them and to seek their own values by dealing with them. Can you imagine not being successful, long-range, if you simply applied the above virtues consistently? And can you imagine being a true success if you failed to apply even one of them?

Most of us – just to survive with a modicum of success – practice them subconsciously more or less, but maybe we can set a better track record for ourselves by at least being aware of the possibilities in following a better ethical and moral path in life. So why not subject yourself to a test such as the one I mentioned above? If you score a perfect 100, you surely deserve to feel pride as the dominant emotion.

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