September 16, 2014 — 7 Comments

iStock_000000406014MediumLeaders do the right thing. Today, many hold that no one can say what is moral, or what is right or wrong. But we admire Abraham Lincoln, a leader of character who did the HIGHEST MORAL ACTION despite the risks. To act, he first had to DISCERN which option was the highest right. He had to use the lost art of moral reasoning.

DISCERNMENT is moral reasoning. It’s the opposite of expedience, short-term-results, political correctness, acceptance, esteem, polls, conflict avoidance, protecting backsides and claiming that no one can say what is right. It’s about one thing: DOING THE HIGHEST RIGHT.

Three tools can help us discern the highest right. First is Conscience (Aug 2012 blog). I become still; I listen to the inner voice; I record its guidance in my calendar. Gandhi said that conscience, which George Washington called celestial fire, was the only tyrant he would accept. But this isn’t easy; Americans are now world leaders in ignoring our conscience.[1]

Today, I’ll describe the second tool: Tier 3 Elimination Analysis. Ask: What’s my most fearful, selfish option? A fear-driven answer pops up. Call this Tier 1 egotism — common cowardice – not a good option. Then ask: what’s the most expedient and pragmatic action for me and my own? This is Tier 2 material results for material people. Now, fear of not having money trumps love of family, and we teach children to compete for cash rather than to improve as people. I once rationalized pragmatism, fear and overwork as “taking care of family.” But I’m not in The Matrix; I was wired to be a moral being. My family wanted time with me more than money. I write this as one who was hungry as a kid and fired and laid-off as a parent of young children.

Third is Tier 3 courage: THE HIGHEST RIGHT THING among remaining right options.

THE CHALLENGE: Listen to conscience. Name and scratch off Tier 1 and Tier 2 options. Match your Tier 3 Highest Right with what conscience told you. Now imagine doing this action. Don’t do it – simply imagine taking this action. Congratulations! You’ve just practiced DISCERNMENT.

I’ll write next time of the third and final tool we can use for DISCERNING THE HIGHEST MORAL ACTION. Until then, imagine courage and character in your life.


[1] http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs.jsp, reported in the Boston Globe, June 6, 2010.

Gus Lee



  1. Three definitions: Honor: the virtue that always stands for truth and demands the highest moral action. Integrity: the virtue that brings one’s life into alignment with the plumb line of honor. Courage: the power to live with honor and integrity.

    • Toby, thank you for your comment linking honor, integrity and courage.
      If we continue to use the acronym, DAT CARS, for the behaviors of character, some re-working might occur.
      Under the West Point Honor Code, Honor is not lying, cheating or stealing or tolerating those who do.
      Under DAT CARS, integrity (DAT) is the virtue that is defined by Discerning the Highest Moral Action; Acting the Highest Moral Action regardless of risk to self-interest; and Teaching the HMA.
      Courage (CARS) is the virtue defined by Correcting the self morally; Addressing respectfully wrongs in others; Respecting all others unconditionally and positively; and Solving problems at their moral root cause.
      The sum of the virtues of Integrity and Courage constitute our Character.
      What do you think?

  2. Thank you Gus, you remain a ‘compass’ in my life.


    Rob K

  3. I really like this blog.
    Discernment is a challenge for me, so I have something to share.
    I hope this comment isn’t too wordy, but these aphorisms are helpful to me when I try to use discernment:
    1. Never assume anything, because when you do, you make an ass out of u and me- and that, after all, is how you spell assume (source- an old friend)
    2. We all make mistakes each day, but if we make a different mistake each day, we are making progress.
    3. Before I act, I try to look inside first, to see if my heart is in the right place. Even if we do a good thing, if we fail to act from a positive motive, the results will not turn out to be good. Yet, if we consult our hearts first, even when we do something less than our best, the results will not turn out to be as bad.
    4. You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar (source- my grandmother)
    5. It is not a good idea to follow others without thinking. What if you followed someone who jumped into the lake and drowned (source- my grandfather.)
    6. We were not designed all hooked up to a group brain. So I think this means that we need to learn to think for ourselves. If we fail to do this, then our brains become vestigial organs.
    7. I try not to be too quick to form an opinion. Instead, I try to take as long as necessary to gather the facts, and to let the facts speak for themselves. When I form an opinion too quickly, I am building a wall that I will need to tear down later, to let in any new facts. This is a lot of work, and it can be embarrassing and humiliating.

    Bless you for what you are doing.

    • Dear Kathy,

      Thank you for your instructive comment. I like each of your seven steps. I particularly appreciate numbers 3 (moral results trump pragmatic ones) and 6 (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we cut off our hands and then expect to build great things.)

      I’m glad you like the blog. After I complete the 3 parts of Discernment, what subject would you like me to consider?


    • Hi, Kathy,
      Thank you for your comment. Please forgive me for taking a year to respond.
      I enjoyed your seven points of wisdom, and the credit you so readily give to others for contributing to your own. We’re now dedicated to being meaningful grandparents.
      How goes your Discernment? It’s an exercise that keeps giving.

      All best to you, with Courage and Character,

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