The Universal Moral Code
The Universal Moral Code is a list of fundamental moral principles that can be found throughout the world. I created the list in 2003 while writing Morality and Morale: A Business Tale. The code incorporates basic, universal ideas about how we should live and how we should treat each other.
There are many reasons to live a moral life. A reason that is often overlooked is that living a moral life is meaningful and fulfilling. The people I have surveyed about the sources of meaning in their lives and work have given very high ratings to "living my values" and "always doing what's right." These are important sources of personal meaning, and personal meaning is a key to being deeply happy. The Universal Moral Code is a simple reminder of the basic moral principles that are the foundation for that meaning and happiness.
In my reading and research, I have found fundamental moral principles expressed in both negative and positive terms, so the code includes both negative and positive statements. Taken together, they make up a balanced code.
To download a copy of the University Moral Code, click here.
I believe that this list of principles describes the kind of behavior to which most people aspire. We are not always successful in following these principles, and we do not all agree on how to apply them. Of course, the moral principles listed in the Universal Moral Code are not the only moral principles that we call upon to guide us in life. However, I believe they are the most fundamental and universal.
People around the world have been making a serious effort to live these moral principles for thousands of years— at least as far back as the Ten Commandments of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon. We know that we need to follow these moral principles in order to live together successfully in our families and communities.
It seems to me that people who regularly lie, cheat, steal, and murder make up a very small percentage of the world's population— perhaps only five or six percent. These people cause a lot of pain and tragedy, but they are a small minority. The most significant fact is that literally billions of people— the other 94 or 95 percent of the world's population—follow fundamental, universal moral principles on a daily basis. Our cultures and customs may be different, but at the most basic level, we have a lot in common. This gives me hope. There is a basis for understanding each other and working together for the common good of all humankind.
The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest moral/legal codes known to historians. Hammurabi was King of Babylon about 4,000 years ago. The Code of Hammurabi has been translated into 282 sections that set forth business, family, social, and political rules. The sections include penalties for false accusations, adultery, incest, assault, medical malpractice, shoddy workmanship, and negligence. (See The Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon About 2250 B.C. by Robert Francis Harper, University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu, 2002.)
There are a number of lists and compilations of moral principles and teachings from the world's great religions and spiritual teachers. For example, see World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts (A Project of the International Religious Foundation, Paragon House, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1995). C. S. Lewis published a list of universal moral principles he called "Illustrations of the Tao or Natural Law" in the appendix of his book The Abolition of Man (1944). He quoted from Christian, Jewish, Egyptian, Babylonian, Roman, Old Norse, Greek, Hindu, Australian Aborigine, Chinese, and American Indian sources.
The Universal Moral Code includes five of the Ten Commandments of Moses, found in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible (Exodus 20). Those five are:
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
Perhaps the best-known universal moral principle is "the golden rule" or ethic of reciprocity. Its negative form is "Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you." Its positive form is "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." The golden rule can be found in Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Confucian texts, among others. There is also “the platinum rule,” which is that we should treat others as they would have us treat them.
This is the book for which I created the Universal Moral Code. The story in the book is about a young business manager faced with a moral dilemma at work. As he calls on others for advice, he learns that business is a way to serve others; that there is a universal moral code that each of us can follow in our businesses and our private lives; that morality and morale are related, so that when morality goes up, morale also goes up; that treating others right can be a source of personal energy and can result in business success; and that living morally makes life more meaningful. The book includes Notes for the Reader that provide background for the ideas introduced in the story. To download a PDF of the book, click here.