Anthony Gray stands up quickly from his seat and, suit and tie and all, gets into a baseball slugger stance.
“Imagine you’re a power hitter in baseball. All your life you’ve been smacking it out of the park,” he says, for all the world looking like he’s about to swing at a fastball, right here in his office. “What if I come up and ask you how you do that? Some players couldn’t even tell you. They’d say ‘I just do it’. They have been doing it so long that they’ve forgotten the step by step process for how they hit like that. I teach a step by step process for ethics and how people can use a process to resolve ethical dilemmas.”
Gray sits back down and continues.
“Our definition of an ethical dilemma is when two or more core values are held in direct tension with one another,” Gray tells Madison365. “When there are two right answers but you can only choose one. We teach people to use different lenses through which to look at the problem and lead an individual to be able to arrive at the higher right answer themselves. I teach a process, not answers. I teach a tool by which people can use core values to arrive at the higher right.”
Gray is the CEO of the Institute of Global Ethics (IGE). He paces around the space in Middleton that is being transformed into his brand new office. Gray has spent years in the field of teaching ethics and being an ethics compliance officer at Sikorsky Corporation.
Ethics. What exactly are they? And how do you know when you’re in violation of them?
Gray says ethics aren’t a matter of right vs wrong. That’s easy, he says. There’s no dilemma there. If you know what the right thing is and what the wrong thing is, you just do the right thing, Gray says matter-of-factly. That’s about compliance, not about ethics.
But what do you do when the right answer isn’t as clear? That’s where the meat of what Gray teaches is.
The IGE works with entities from across all public and private platforms to develop what their business code of ethics and standards will be. He teaches everyone from law students to the Ma and Pop who run the store on the corner.
“Fundamentally, we’re an educational organization,” Gray says. “We don’t tell anybody what to think. We teach them tools they can use to resolve difficult situations.”
Gray’s hypothesis is that every human being knows basic components of morality and ethics that guide each person internally. He believes those basic components can be broken down and taught as a process, so that people can develop standards of ethics in keeping with the common set of core values each person has.
Gray said that every person has these internal components of what is right and ethical standards and that has been his belief for several years.
But how does he make sense of, say, a Presidential Administration that is full of people who clearly don’t have an internal ethical compass or even appear to care that they don’t have one?
Madison365 posed this question to Gray and asked how he can still believe that people have these internal ethics when they voted for someone who clearly does not.
“I don’t talk about individuals or political parties, I talk about rules you can follow,” Gray started. “But those folks, people like the current President, are outliers that prove the rule. The reason they seem so insidious is precisely because they are out of whack with what the rest of us know to be solid ethics. So they don’t disprove that everyone has core values. They are outliers who are exposed by the fact that everyone else has these core values and them showing they don’t looks flagrant because everyone else does.”
Gray is asked about various things like Michigan State’s current scandal and other current events issues similar to that. Eventually, he pauses.
Gray explains that entities like Michigan State are institutions with NCAA rules to follow. If they’re not following them, that is a compliance issue and not an ethical issue. Choosing not to adhere to the written rules of the NCAA just means they’re breaking rules. But ethics go deeper than whether or not someone is following rules.
Take, for example, a juvenile offender, Gray says. Someone who is 12 or 13 years old who commits some major crime. The types of ethics questions he explores are exemplified in that situation. Because now there are different ways to interpret what the “right” thing to do with that kid is. They could be punished severely and that could be interpreted as right because they might have hurt someone badly. They’ve done damage to the community. It isn’t unreasonable to see them pay the penalties the law says they have to pay for the crimes that they committed.
But there are other right answers as well. The kid is 13, say. Their brain isn’t even close to being developed and the notion that they understood the scope of their behavior is becoming increasingly ridiculous with all the research being done on adolescent brain development.
So perhaps the higher right is finding a way to correct their behavior in a way that doesn’t devastate the rest of their lives for something that happened when they were a child.
Gray used that illustration to demonstrate that people on both sides of that issue could reasonably say they are right. But the second option is the higher right.
“We’re using techniques to teach core values. A methodology. And that methodology is usable anywhere. It is broadly applicable in almost every circumstance. We are an applied ethics think tank, not a theoretical entity. Truth vs Loyalty. Individual vs Community. Now vs Later. Those are tensions in ethics. Justice vs Mercy. Those four paradigms help us review ethical dilemmas.”
Gray was the Global Compliance Officer at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and an associate attorney with Day Pitney LLP in Connecticut before being recruited to come to Madison by Beth Kransperger, the Associate Dean at the UW Law School. Gray loved being recruited by UW like he was a stud running back or something.
Gray moved out to Madison, met his wife, fell in love with the city, and now is seeking ways to teach ethics and also form businesses that empower the community.
Right now, Gray is in the process of making a documentary following one man’s journey to learn from the best of humanity as well a film documenting people like Sally Yates, John Lewis, John McCain and others who have ethical principles in common with one another.
Gray is also working on an organic, wealth-building company called Austringer, which he hopes will help people of color find ways to financial empowerment. He also has plans for a second chance workforce development pipeline to help ex-offenders avoid the ridiculous “check the box” stigma that keeps thousands of ex-offenders from gaining meaningful employment when their sentences are finished.
In the meantime, Gray will continue to develop IGE and hopes the lessons he can impart will help companies and individuals navigate ethical dilemmas in a more effective way.
“We all face these decisions on a daily basis whether we recognize it or not,” Gray said. “We talk about policy and behavior. People like John Lewis, Sally Yates, the Dalai Lama. They have more in common with one another than they have differences. Those commonalities have patterns. If you can isolate the components of those patterns, you can replicate the components of those patterns.”
Thus, his demonstration of the long-ball hitter. Just like that player could think about breaking down each step of hitting the long ball, businesses and individuals can learn to break down each step of navigating ethical issues.
Right versus wrong isn’t nearly as important as getting it right when it’s, well, right versus right.