Pt 2/ Fred Norris on Moral Sensitivity


Aristotle once said that leaders have a responsibility to both be virtuous and help others seek virtue. In defining virtue, he stated that it is not implanted by nature; virtue comes about through knowledge and experience. Building this knowledge and experience is how we begin our path towards ethical maturity. To show us the way is Fred Norris.

Fred Norris is Howard Stern’s longest-tenured cohort and an integral member of the team. He writes for the show, does all sound effects, injects jokes, and is a significant (though mostly silent) presence. Fred is often teased for his eccentricities and oddities and is frequently described as being “from Mars.” Fortunately, this is not as relevant today as it once was. Life experiences have helped develop Fred in both his personal life and how he relates to people on the radio.

As mentioned in part one of this series, James Rest is a leading expert on morality. Through his research, James identified three key components that leaders must develop to be ethically mature. The first component in making an ethical decision involves moral sensitivity, i.e., recognizing that there might be an ethical concern.

When Fred first made it big with the Howard Stern Show, it was apparent that his view of the world was not quite the same as ours. Fred was offended easily, but also unpredictably. If someone mildly prodded him with a childish insult, Fred could go on an all-out attack without regard for the feelings of those around him or the ramifications of his vicious insults. There was no ethical scrutiny because Fred was not aware that there could be more constructive ways to react.

Moral sensitivity is based on the idea that an ethical quandary cannot be resolved if there is not first awareness that it exists. Over time, Fred has learned to identify these situations before losing his cool. A comment that would have elicited an uncontrollable tantrum will now only get a brief, but stinging, retort.

Increasing one’s moral sensitivity requires that leaders consider how their decisions and behavior will affect others. It involves remaining open to others’ points of view, stepping back from a situation to determine its moral implications, and reacting with complete self-control and self-awareness.

Once a leader can control themselves, they need to dictate the appropriate behavior to those around them. They must refuse to excuse misbehavior. Leaders can garner attention to ethical issues by frequently mentioning them as they occur. There should be an openness that these issues exist.

When the leader makes a decision that can be construed as morally questionable, it is important that they review why the decision was made with their team. These conversations promote trust from the team and teach others how to respond in the future.

This is the second in a four part series on ethical maturity. In part three we will discuss Moral Judgments.

For the other chapters of this series, check out:

1/ Howard Stern on Ethical Maturity

3/ Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate on Moral Judgments

4/ Robin Quivers on Moral Motivation

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