The past twenty years of applied ethics work from my base in South Africa have taken me around much of my own country, other parts of Africa, Australia, Britain and the USA. Although much has been achieved in these and other countries to enhance ethical practice, much remains to be done as we seek a better future, a quest that calls for the best possible ethical leadership.
I have been greatly privileged to experience some of the greatest ethical leaders of our time in the persons of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, and to encounter direct descendants of Gandhi, whose 21 years in my country transformed him from a young attorney into a Mahatma, a “great soul.”
What I have long been seeking is a book that would map for me and others the qualities of leadership to be seen in these paradigms of moral excellence. Ethical Intelligence is the book I’ve been seeking. It is an exceptionally valuable contribution to the quest for fresh ethical thinking, which can make a significant difference in how we live and work.
Having worked early in my career for an international educational publisher, I know only too well that clarity is a fundamental requirement of good writing. Ethical Intelligence scores high in this regard. It is a model of considerate, lucid writing, which in itself is a sure sign that the material being conveyed has been understood with utmost thoroughness. The chapters are helpfully divided into sections and sub-sections, and they are amply illustrated with case studies, references to further reading, handy pull quotes in text boxes, graphics, concluding summaries and practical questions to round off each chapter.
The book contains a wealth of material. In this foreword, I can highlight only a selection of what I have found most valuable in it. A great deal of what others have written about applied ethics is set within the framework of Western thought—mostly philosophical but sometimes reflecting a Western religious orientation. While there is real ethical value in this framework, it is too narrow to serve the needs of an increasingly seamless world of many cultures. I applaud Dr. Opincar’s immersion in a much wider, richer and deeper world of ethical wisdom, ranging from ancient China westward to his own country and over a time span of 4,500 years, without neglecting the many important ethical teachings of Western philosophers and faith traditions.
Another limitation of much that has been published about applied ethics is that it often draws on a single discipline, mostly philosophy. Ethical Intelligence avoids this limitation by using insights from history, literature, business studies, comparative religion and psychology as well. In addition, Dr. Opincar’s account of ethics rests on admirable foundations involving three main sources: extensive studies of published work; a great deal of interview material with men and women in leadership positions; and decades of highly relevant personal. professional, corporate and academic experience.
Another significant strength of the book is the fact that it explores and explains not just what is right and good in business and elsewhere, but also what is wrong and harmful. An example of the latter is his discussion near the end of the book of Adolf Hitler and the nature of leadership.
Dr. Opincar has ensured that his book is highly practical. He achieves this by never losing sight of the “real” world of business and leadership practice, using detailed case studies and his own experiences. I greatly admire the frank way he so often draws his own experiences—mistakes included—into the text, giving it great authenticity.
This remarkable book makes me wish I already had it in hand for my ethics training of anti-corruption workers from around Africa as we seek ways to foster a new kind of leader—one who will practice the ethical intelligence presented here with clarity, wisdom and profound commitment to the greater good.
Dr. Martin Prozesky
Hilton, South Africa