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Era of ethics

Americans bemoan the prevalence of crime and violence, the frequent disintegration of families. They can identify what's wrong.

They also know the solution. THEY are the solution.And they've targeted personal responsibility, ethics, stronger families and community service as ways to change society for the better.

Those are the findings of a national study commissioned by Franklin Covey that indicates Americans want - indeed, yearn for - a return of ethics and personal responsibility.

Franklin Covey Co., based in Utah, markets day planners and organizers, books like "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," by Stephen R. Covey, and other training materials.

Among the findings of a telephone survey, conducted in July by CDB Research and Consulting, is a belief by a whopping 94 percent of those questioned that people do not take enough responsibility for their actions. And 92 percent believe that children should be taught ethics in public school.

"I have always believed that's what the silent majority wants," said Hyrum Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of Franklin Covey. "Things are not working in our schools. Things are not working in our families. We have a generation growing up that can't spell `ethics,' let alone live it."

Smith believes that there are "basic principles that make great human beings great that go back thousands of years. But every generation has to discover for itself what they are. There are principles and natural consequences. It's natural law, like gravity. You may not like gravity, but if you walk off a building, it's going to claim you. There are natural laws that govern society, laws that govern interpersonal relationships."

America was founded on many of those principles, he said, "basically Christian principles because the Founding Fathers of this country were Christians. But if you look at the principles, they go way back before traditional Christianity started. We should get back to the basic things taught in the Constitution: Treat people with respect. Don't take stuff that's not yours. Don't tell things that aren't true.

"Those are ethics. And there ought to be a way to teach that. But we don't find that stuff laced through the readers that kids get anymore. They've been carefully removed under the guise of I don't know what. You have to separate religion from state. Well, this is not a religious issue. It's a survival issue. Just look at the cultures that have failed. They failed because they backed away from those basic principles, the natural laws that help society survive."

Accountability must begin at a very young age, Smith said.

Last year, someone broke into Smith's home in southern Utah and stole, among other things, a wall safe that contained some family heirlooms. Police eventually snagged five burglars, including a man that investigation later revealed had been "stealing stuff since he was 10 years old and nobody made him accountable for it."

According to Smith, each time the young man had gotten into trouble as a youth, his parents staunchly maintained he could not have done anything wrong. "He learned at a very young age, `I can get away with this.' If the first time he got caught, his parents had nailed his fanny to the wall, the probability of his continuing it into adulthood would have been small."

Although half of the marriages in America end in divorce, the survey found that 93 percent of Americans believe that marriage should be a lifelong contract.

Those results show that Americans just don't know how to make marriage work, he said. "Look at the training we put people through for a job. With marriage, how much training do they get? None. But there are basic skills that can be taught and acquired that would save a whole lot of marriages."

The first step is developing good listening skills - "and how many 19- or 20-year-olds do you know who know how to listen?" he asked.

The three keys to a good marriage, he said, are the ability to communicate, to agree on finances and to develop a good sexual relationship. "All three need to be worked on."

Among other findings of the survey, which has an error margin of plus- or minus 4 percent:

-86 percent blame parents who don't spend enough time with their children for teen delinquency problems.

-79 percent would give up a promotion if it meant spending less time with their families.

- 70 percent said having the most money doesn't mean you are successful.

- 98 percent think it's important to keep job skills honed.

- 66 percent feel that acquiring knowledge helps you get ahead.

- 84 percent believe students should volunteer in the community in order to graduate from high school.

Some of the most interesting findings pertained to work ethics, Smith said. For instance, 93 percent of those asked believe that the people they work with trust them. But only 81 percent trust those with whom they work. And half the people questioned said they have a problem with someone at work.

"Trust is basic, at the very core of life. If you don't trust people, it's my opinion that you are not trustworthy and assume others aren't."

While the survey pointed out concerns people have about society and families, 95 percent of respondents said they are satisfied with their lives. (The more money one earned, the more satisfied they were). On the other hand, most people were only "somewhat" satisfied with the way things are going in America (45 percent). Another 18 percent are very satisfied, while 2 percent are extremely satisfied. Women were less likely to be satisfied with America's direction than men were.

"I think the message is: We've got major problems, but they are fixable," said Smith.

"Every individual in this society has a responsibility to do something. Get involved in the political process, in the school systems or in communities. We have problems in Salt Lake City that make your stomach turn. Why do we have gangs? Families aren't working. Kids want to go where they feel loved and protected, and they're turning to gangs.

"The best thing people can do is save their own family. We can't say it's someone else's problem anymore and expect someone else to fix it."