The Letter of the Law vs. The Spirit of the Law

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The goal of all ethical behavior is to act with goodness and the right intent, in addition to fairness.

Likewise, business ethics is about pursuing the spirit of the law and going beyond the letter of the law. A person can meet the letter of the law and still behave unethically. For vivid examples of this concept, I invite you to explore the following posts: The Donkey and the Gem, The Broken Wine Barrel, and The Factory Fire.

Going beyond the Letter of the Law = the Spirit of the Law

The spirit of the law goes beyond the written word, or letter of the law, and seeks to capture the purpose or intent of a law when it was written. 

The biblical and modern sages laud the ethical seller who speaks the truth in his heart and resolves to demonstrate a high level of ethical behavior.

Similarly, modern-day thought leaders and academics concur that today’s highest levels of conduct lie beyond the letter of the law.

The Application of the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as you wish to be treated. The basic rule of ethics and goodness, and found in many religions and cultures, the Golden Rule is largely considered an ethic of reciprocity.

When applied to sales, The Golden Rule provides a solution to many issues, as it involves fairness and equality in the seller and buyer relationship. There should be the mutual goal that both parties are satisfied by the exchange of money for goods.

Orison Swett Marden, founder of SUCCESS magazine in 1897, offered a simple, powerful, and actionable statement: “The golden rule for every businessman is this: ‘Put yourself in your customer’s place.’” This way of thinking engages the seller’s sense of empathy, fairness, and goodness to guide his or her best possible business decisions.

Cultivating Mutual Trust: A Virtuous Cycle

Ideally, both buyers and sellers develop a mutual level of trust by reciprocating each other’s gestures of goodwill. This dynamic makes the sales process transparent and successful.

Achieving A Higher Ethical Standard

In the final analysis, when one obeys the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law, that person is obeying the literal interpretation of the words of the law. However, they are not necessarily honoring the intent of those who wrote the law. We must always remember that there can be a stark disparity between the two. Therefore, please consider a more ethical path and make business decisions with the spirit of the law in mind.

Ethics is Smart Business


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