Got Ethics?


We have all seen the negative effects of the lack of ethics and integrity in various fields. NLP is no different, and in fact, I believe we are all required to help “raise the bar” when it comes to our actions and behaviors. I hold myself to a high standard not only with the individuals I work with, but with the students I teach in the events The Empowerment Partnership conducts.


A recent event that gave me a positive learning in Irvine has prompted me to help define ethics and ecology within the field of NLP. On a personal note, I believe that the field of NLP unfortunately skips over these two concepts. I am clear it is not ignored intentionally; I believe that by lack of training and study, the concept has never come up and was not traditionally discussed in NLP.


My Background in Psychology


One of the major concepts taught in psychology is that of ethics, which some can define as the study of morals and/or the study of right and wrong. In fact, various mentors and educators teach us this along our path (e.g. parents). In school, there were many instances where ethical guidelines were discussed and taught.


A classic example is the concept of working with family and loved ones. I remember right off the bat in school, the professor in my residency asked, “Who has a family member that could use help?” Everyone raised their hand, and then she launched into why we cannot help them from an ethical viewpoint. Simply put, crossing certain boundaries is inappropriate and unethical.


In my field of study, which is Health Psychology, the APA lists the ethical guidelines for practice (APA Ethics). And in fact, we have a code of ethics and standards in our practice that are clearly spelled out and understood. And this is where ecology and ethics differ.


You see ethics usually takes the approach of spelling out and defining the boundaries, whereas ecology looks at the relationship between self and environment.


Ecological Psychology


Now the traditional term of ecology did in fact deal with the environment; however, in the late 70s and early 80s, it began to be used in psychology (some of the studies were from the late 60s). In fact, since 1981, The International Society for Ecological Psychology (ISEP) has studied the relationship between things such as perceptions and how action relates to the environment.


While many of the studies related to very basic functions (e.g. perceptions and catching a ball), some have tackled the bigger issues in commentary and discussion. These bigger issues include actions being good for self and good for environment.


Ecology in NLP


Ok, so to the point, what is ecology in NLP and psychology! Three of the earlier contributors to Ecological Psychology (Gibson, Barker and Wright) explain that it is a study of the relationship between the knower and the known. That means perceptions. Intent and intention are studied in relationship to actions. For me personally and professionally, the benefit is that it forces the learner to go beyond a written code of ethics.


It creates the need for the student to review actions and develop a strategy for maintain “good practices.”


You see the concept of ecological psychology is a review / study of “good for self, good for others, good for environment.” In actions, rather then being concerned with a memorized list, one would review the decisions and actions based on those three concepts. “Are my action good for self, good for others, and good for the environment?”


In our NLP trainings, we discuss ethics and to be specific, our school does have a clearly defined code of ethics. However, we actually spend more time on ecology and we do our best to teach the concept of ecology and how to apply it in life.


Bringing the Energy!


To take it a step further, in ancient teaching in Hawai`i, the late John Kaimikaua explained that one would not take action unless the action was pono (right) with self, right with aina (the planet and all things on it) and right with source (this could be energy, higher spirit, or even god, depending on your belief).


Now this kicks ecology up a notch, because now it is not just good for self, good for others, good for planet, you have to also incorporate the concept of energy or source in the equation.


I know, this may be a bit “big” for some to grasp; however, as John explained, this idea kept things in balance and it kept things right. From my heart, many things on our planet seem a bit out of balance right now, and maybe we could use a little of these concepts in our lives to help bring some balance on all levels….




So to review: In our actions and behaviors, how do we determine if what we are doing is ecological? We check these 3 (or 4 if you choose that option) areas.


1. Is my goal / action good for self?

2. Is my goal / action good for others that will be affected?

3. Is my goal / action good for environment?

4. Is my goal / action pono (right) with source?


When you do this, I cannot say you will always be right; however, you will sleep at night, because you will have done your best to operate with integrity, ethics and ecology.


Mahalo, Matt James