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Business ethics: what's your standard? Ever hear the quip: "Business ethics is an oxymoron"? It's certainly an easy subject to be cynical about. That is until you find yourself in a difficult ethical dilemma.

I came up against this issue at my first real job as a business decision-maker. A friend and I had started up a small advertising agency. We took on a third partner who was a crackerjack advertising salesman for a local TV station. Soon we began doing quite well, winning lots of local and regional awards for our work.

As the company grew, it seemed to take on a life of its own. After about a year of continued success, we found ourselves overwhelmed with the activities of pitching new clients, keeping our current clients happy, keeping our competition at bay, and the expectation to always top the last campaign idea, TV spot or print ad.

For a small agency we had attracted a sizable pool of clients. So, we had to work fast, and make important decisions quickly. I began to feel uneasy with some of those decisions, and bad judgment calls we were all making. Plus, along with our success I noticed growing signs of egotism in our attitudes toward clients and even toward each other.

For instance, my partner agreed to do some political advertising for a congressional candidate friend of his, which would involve untrue and exaggerated statements about the candidate, as well as dubious attacks on her opponents. We had always worked together and discussed our potential clients, but this one he felt was his personal project. I just kept my distance.

Our salesman of the team began a habit of frequenting bars, on company time. He characterized his time at the bars as "networking" for new clients, but I never recall any actual business being generated from it. He also started bringing in some bad clients-like a company that just never paid the bill or the traveling art exhibiter/seller we did TV ads for who traveled away without a contract, a contact or a payment.

Maybe they weren't doing anything technically illegal. However, I knew in my heart that our standards were falling. We had stopped being open and honest with each other, and the integrity of our creative work was eroding. To keep the peace I worked on several projects I was at odds with-like an HMO (health maintenance organization) we portrayed as being much more together and professional than it actually was.

I felt uneasy with my compromises, but I didn't want to appear self-righteous to my partners. Yet something needed to change. I could see that these lapses in integrity would work against our continued success as a business, and I too needed to examine my thoughts and actions, to find and obey a higher, clearer standard of ethics. Spirituality writer, Mary Baker Eddy writes, "The continual contemplation of existence as material and corporeal ...hides the true and spiritual Life, and causes our standard to trail in the dust. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" A more spiritualized viewpoint was clearly needed.

So I finally turned to what I knew would provide the best answers, prayer. I stopped wallowing in the problem, and made time to quietly open my thought to the influence of God, who I think of as divine Love, and just listen. It then came to me that I needed a new view of my partners. I needed to see them as representatives not only of our company, but also of their Creator, God. I had to see myself that way, too.

As I strove to see us all as representatives of the Divine in our work, I became less conflicted. I saw we could all get beyond this period of unethical behavior and be governed by a divine standard. And I could see my partners, and everyone we worked with, not as fallible personalities, but as the very spiritual representatives of God. I tried to know that this pure divine nature is the core of everyone's true being, grounding us in integrity and truth. Gradually, I found my own self-righteousness gave way to a greater patience, calm and positive expectation about the business. A peaceful trust came over me.

Soon, I brought up the ethical concerns with my partners. They listened to what I had to say and agreed to up our standards. Selfish pursuits gave way to greater trust and more of a team approach. We tried to be more open and honest with employees and clients.

All this resulted in better communications among the three of us, more humor and joy around the office, a fading of egos and a lifting of pressure and anxiety. On this more solid foundation, the company improved in both the quality of work and the quality of our clients. And our client load naturally reduced to a more manageable level.

So if you are ever caught in a difficult ethical dilemma, you don't have to just grin and bear it. Take it to a higher level. From this perspective, the real problem and its best solution will become clear. It may not be the solution you expect, but God's answer will always be what's best for you, and everyone involved.

� John Minard

First published on Spirituality.com. Copyright permission given. Reach him at johminard@mail.com to share your thoughts.