The 3rd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Knowledge without Character.

Several years ago I became very interested in the question of “Character.”  What is character?  How do we develop character?  Are we losing character in our population and if so, why?  I found a number of books on the subject but the one that most impressed me was called “The Death of Character.”  It was published in 2001 and was written by James Davison Hunter.   The book description is as follows:

The Death of Character is a broad historical, sociological, and cultural inquiry into the moral life and moral education of young Americans based upon a huge empirical study of the children themselves. The children’s thoughts and concerns-expressed here in their own words-shed a whole new light on what we can expect from moral education. Targeting new theories of education and the prominence of psychology over moral instruction, Hunter analyzes the making of a new cultural narcissism.

One of the observations that I drew from reading this book is that as a nation, Americans have moved from a perspective of absolute values to a strong belief in relative values or flexible standards.  Wherein once people could be labeled as moral or immoral based on their behavior, today we have the concept of amorality which does not seem to have existed before the 20th century.   Some definitions might help here:

Moral:  Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Immoral:  Violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.

Amoral:  Being neither moral nor immoral; specifically: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply.

Character:  The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person.

According to Hunter’s research, the American population has moved from a bipartite arrangement in which people fell between the poles of moral or immoral to a tripartite arrangement in which most people would be classified as amoral, immoral or moral.  The percentage of people in the amoral area has steadily increased while the percentage in the moral area has steadily declined since the early 1900s.

I was teaching in higher education from 1999 to 2015 and one question I  routinely asked my MBA and BA students is “What would you do if you were driving down a lonely dirt road and saw a Wells Fargo money bag lying on the side of the road?  Would you return it?”  I suspect that you would be surprised if I told you that less than 3 students in 30 say they would return it.

However, if I ask them the following question, the numbers change dramatically.  “What would you do if you noticed that upon leaving the classroom, Mary had dropped a twenty dollar bill?  You are the only one who has noticed it. Would you return it?”  The replies are unanimous in that all students say they would return it.  Students regard hurting another person that they know as wrong or immoral, but stealing from Wells Fargo is not considered immoral but is rather considered as amoral.  My own teaching experiences over the years confirm much of what Hunter says in his book.  Amorality is rampant among business students.

So we come to an important question.  Can we have an educated and intelligent population (more people getting degrees and going to school) and less morality?  What if more people are becoming amoral and we have less moral people?  What are the implications?  Well, I think the answer is clear here.  Look at corporate behavior.  You have only to read the story of Enron “The Smartest Men in the Room” to see concrete examples of intelligent behavior without a sense of morality or character.   When we look at amoral behavior in people and organizations, a primary question is how long before the amoral behavior becomes immoral and crosses the line to illegal – as it did with Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing.

Gandhi says this about his 3rd Social sin: 

“Our obsession with materialism tends to make us more concerned about acquiring knowledge so that we can get a better job and make more money. A lucrative career is preferred to an illustrious character. Our educational centers emphasize career-building and not character-building. Gandhi believed if one is not able to understand one’s self, how can one understand the philosophy of life. He used to tell me the story of a young man who was an outstanding student throughout his scholastic career. He scored “A’s” in every subject and strove harder and harder to maintain his grades. He became a bookworm. However, when he passed with distinction and got a lucrative job, he could not deal with people nor could he build relationships. He had no time to learn these important aspects of life. Consequently, he could not live with his wife and children nor work with his colleagues. His life ended up being a misery. All those years of study and excellent grades did not bring him happiness. Therefore, it is not true that a person who is successful in amassing wealth is necessarily happy. An education that ignores character- building is an incomplete education.”

In my book, “The New Business Values” one of my chapters was on Information.  I outlined a hierarchy of information as follows: Data>Information>Knowledge>Wisdom.   I described knowledge as a set of beliefs, facts or ideas that contained relevance to some goal, need or desire.  In my model, knowledge cannot become wisdom until it is linked to emotions and feelings for others.  I think Gandhi’s ideas of linking knowledge to character probably hits the mark more accurately.  It was my understanding that knowledge without empathy and compassion for others could never be wisdom.

The world is full of knowledge today since scientific belief has replaced religious belief.   However, science can never develop the sense of empathy and compassion as a central part of character development.  Furthermore, character development even more than knowledge, stands alone as a primary developmental need for any civilized society.  Gandhi wisely noted that we have let our passion for commerce and money outrun our passion for purpose and character.

The famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his book Economics and the Public Purpose (1973, Houghton Mifflin) that:

“The contribution of economics to the exercise of power may be called its instrumental function… Part of this function consists in instructing several hundred thousand students each year… They are led to accept what they might otherwise criticize; critical inclinations which might be brought to bear on economic life are diverted to other and more benign fields.” 

Galbreath observed over 35 years ago that we are educating MBA students who have become mindless automatons in a corporate system without a conscience.  Having no conscience is one aspect of amoral behavior.  In today’s society and schools such behavior has become the accepted norm.  It’s the “go along” to “get along” mentality that accepts corporate decisions regardless of their impact on people, the environment or even our nation.  The “diversion” that Galbraith speaks of is easily recognized as sports and media entertainment.  Sports and news create 24/7 hours if mostly inane and benign diversions that keep the public’s mind off of character or moral development.  Indeed watching sports figures and media figures today is evidence of a “vast wasteland” in terms of character development.

So where do we go from here?  The picture appears bleak.  We now accept amorality as a legitimate position on the map of character development.  We ignore the development of true character in our schools and churches; in fact, we supplant the development of character with the requisite amorality needed to get ahead in the business world.  The values of the corporation have supplanted the values needed for a kind and compassionate civilization.  Our schools have become prisons and our prisons overflow.  The USA has some of the highest amounts of incarceration in the world.  Our courts have become three ring media circuses designed to show an endless succession of trials whose main points seem to be to titillate and entertain the masses.  Can we escape from this cycle of destruction that we have built for ourselves?

Time for Questions:

Am I too bleak?  Do you think there is more morality in society than I describe? What do you do to develop your own character?  Do you feel that there is enough emphasis on character development in our churches and schools?  What do you think can be done about it?  How do we start?

Life is just beginning.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”  ― Arthur Schopenhauer

Where did the Drug Crisis Start?

Where did the “Drug Crisis Start?”  Since 1980 deaths from drug overdoses in the USA have steadily increased every year.  In 1999, the per capita rate of drug deaths (Based on 100,000 people) was 6.1 for all drugs while the rate of deaths from opioids was 2.9.  In 2017, the rate was 21.7 for all drugs and 14.9 percent for opioids.

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Why are so many dying from Opioids?

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This article in the Guardian states that the main reason for the increases was the epidemic created by the pharmaceutical industry in pushing drugs for pain relief for very common problems such as arthritis and back pain. 

Thus, while we arrest drug dealers, the real culprits go scott free and become billionaires on the suffering of the US population. 

Certainly there is a causal link between an aging population, increased obesity, back pain, prescription drugs and drug deaths.  But as we should have clearly seen even twenty years ago, the solution is not more PAIN Killers.”

It should have been obvious to the doctors, pharmaceutical executives, FDA and all of our political leaders.  However, truth and reality are too often forgotten when it comes to making profits.  Greed trumps all other considerations and millions of Americans have become hooked on painkillers to alleviate symptoms that can often be treated with much simpler and more effective solutions.

The 2nd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Pleasure without Conscience.

A number of years ago when I first started graduate school, I was talking to a professor who had just purchased a brand new yacht.  This was nearly 30 years ago and I was pretty judgmental (I am hoping I am somewhat less judgmental today). I remember saying to him exactly what was on my mind:  “Don’t you feel guilty with all of the poverty and problems we are facing in this world, to spend your money on such an extravagant purchase?”  To this day (Perhaps, my continued naiveté) I remain both shocked and amazed at his reply.  “John, if I can afford it, I deserve it.”  I was shocked because it seemed so insensitive to the world’s problems and I was amazed because I had expected that someone who had earned a Ph.D. would have had a more reflective and thoughtful reply.  Instead, he simply parroted back to me what I had labeled as the “Protestant Ethic.”  According to Wikipedia:

“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and prosperity as a display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith. The phrase was initially coined in 1904 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Somewhere in the course of the development of American Capitalism, guilt or perhaps conscience was replaced by the moral certainty that if you only work hard enough, you can spend your money as frivolously as you want to.  At least, this was the interpretation I drew and continue to draw from my understanding of the Protestant Work Ethic.  In some sense, I can understand this idea.  If you work hard, why should you not be able to harvest the fruits of your labor?  Why should you be expected to share with those who are less fortunate?  After all, how many of the “less” fortunate are “less” because of their own laziness, stupidity, inertia or lack of ambition?  Should I have to pay more taxes to support people who don’t want to work or whose entire goal in life is to eat their way to obesity, drink their way to liver failure or drug their minds to an out of this world zombie state?  Why should I have to put up with the lack of ethics that it would appear so many of the indigent and poor in this world have?  A study in England in 2009 found that:

Four out of five people see nothing wrong with stealing from their workplace – while more than half think it acceptable for a care giver to persuade an elderly person to rewrite their will, according to a new study.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1211629/How-80-think-OK-steal-work-study-reveals-wavering-moral-compass.html#ixzz2RU850BbL

In some sense, the Protestant Ethic is a direct refutation of the morals that I had been given in my early Catholic school training. Perhaps, that is why Catholics and Protestants did not get along in years gone by.  I remember every lunch break being told by one of the nuns or sisters at my Catholic school to be sure to “clean my plate.”  When queried why this was so important I always received the same reply “Because of the starving kids in India.”  Somehow, I was expected to feel guilty for these starving children in some far away country who did not have enough food to eat.  Was it my fault that they did not have enough to eat?  However, it was okay if I cleaned my plate and did not leave any scraps.  Kind of reminds me of when I go to a Chinese Buffet and it says on the sign posted:  “Please do not take more than you can eat.”  I weight 147 lbs. and scrupulously (well, sometimes) obey this admonition.  I watch the 400 lb. plus people with plates that are stacked higher than the Eiffel Tower and I wonder if they saw the sign or is it simply that they are on a diet?  See, there I go again, being judgmental.

Well, here it is nearly 30 years later and the question I posed to my professor colleague still seems quite legitimate to me.  When is it okay to indulge?  When can I binge? When is it permissible to go buy my brand new Ferrari or brand new yacht?  What would Sister Evangeline say if she knew I was spending $350,000 dollars or more to purchase a new boat that I might only use two or three times per year?  What would Martin Luther say?  I can imagine Luther saying: “Well, John, don’t worry about it. You are supporting the economy. Every boat you buy is a job for some boat builder in India or Pakistan or some other place where the kids don’t have enough to eat.”  “Thank You Martin Luther, now I don’t feel so guilty.”  Hooray for the Protestant Work Ethic!

Here is what the Gandhi Institute has to say about this issue:

Pleasure Without Conscience: This is connected to wealth without work. People find imaginative and dangerous ways of bringing excitement to their otherwise dull lives. Their search for pleasure and excitement often ends up costing society very heavily. Taking drugs and playing dangerous games cause avoidable health problems that cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect health care facilities. Many of these problems are self-induced or ailments caused by careless attitudes. The United States spends more than $250 billion on leisure activities while 25 million children die each year because of hunger, malnutrition, and lack of medical facilities. Irresponsible and unconscionable acts of sexual pleasure and indulgence also cost the people and the country very heavily. Not only do young people lose their childhood but innocent babies are brought into the world and often left to the care of the society. The emotional, financial, and moral price is heavy on everyone. Gandhi believed pleasure must come from within the soul and excitement from serving the needy, from caring for the family, the children, and relatives. Building sound human relationships can be an exciting and adventurous activity. Unfortunately, we ignore the spiritual pleasures of life and indulge in the physical pleasures which are “pleasure without conscience.”

Fromhttp://www.rabbitadvocacy.com/gandhi_teachings.htm

A person I really admire is the teacher and prophet OSHO.  OSHO also believes that all the violence in the world comes from the need people have to address the boredom and meaninglessness in their daily lives. People who are bored and who feel that their lives have no meaning turn to violence and or drugs in an effort to fill their lives with something that excites them or makes them feel alive. The problem with such stimulation is that it never really fills the void and as with any panacea it is only temporary. The void returns and the need to find new or greater stimulation also returns.  The cycle is not broken by the search for outside stimulation since the only real meaning of our lives must come from within.  No matter how great the wealth we achieve, no matter how many titles we accrue, no matter how famous we become and no matter how many people want our autographs, this kind of stimulation can never fill the void that we have if we do not find real meaning for our existence.

Let us pose the central issue here (Pleasure without Conscience) in the form of series of questions. Each question puts a slightly different slant on the issue:  Here are some ways to reflect on the issue:

  • How much pleasure is it okay to feel before I feel guilty?
  • If I am enjoying my life, should I feel guilty?
  • Do I have to feel guilty if I am feeling great pleasure?
  • Does a sense of conscience have anything to do with my personal pleasure?
  • Do I need to tie the concept of pleasure in with conscience?

Depending on which way we posit the question we will come up with different answers.  Try the exercise yourself and see what you find as your personal answers. For me, I would answer some of these questions in the negative and some in the positive. Nevertheless, such a pedantic method of addressing the issue actually ignores what I think Gandhi was really getting at.  I don’t think this is an issue of us not enjoying our lives or not finding pleasure but it is more of what I have come to think of as a “Happy Days” issue. Do you remember the sitcom that ran from the mid-seventies to mid-eighties?  It featured Ron Howard as a too good to be true teenager and Henry Winkler as a thuggish type of Greaser.   The term “Happy Days” was associated with how many Americans felt about the period of time between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy and the Mickey Mouse Club show were only a few of the sitcoms to depict a happy America where all was right with the world and Americans knew only bliss and prosperity.

Those “Happy Days” for middle class White male Americans were not so happy for the rest of the world never mind the many groups and constituencies in the USA who were denied rights, served excessive prison terms, could not find employment and were often subject to abuse and/or lynching. I refer here to minority groups and women in the USA during our “Happy Days” period.  One could argue that either stupidity or a lack of conscience was a prerequisite for putting on “Happy Days” blinders. Kind of like those folks who miss the “Good Old Days” down south.  Those nostalgic summer days when the happy slaves would sing and dance all day long in the cotton fields.  At the end of the day, they would trudge happily home to their cozy cabins to sit by the fire-place and eat their fill of watermelon, sweet potato pie and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Before going to bed, the young slaves would all have cute stories read to them by Uncle Remus.  Stories that would prepare the young slaves to get ahead in a world dominated by discrimination and non-citizenship.  No doubt migrant workers, women and many other minorities would have their own version of the “Happy Days” fantasy that dominated American Psyche for so long. In fact, there are many Americans who still believe in the “Happy Days” fantasy.

The point I am getting at is that no matter how you look at it, it is immoral and unethical to divorce Pleasure from Conscience.  To do so, is to be guilty of at best a form of benign neglect and at worst, a criminal conspiracy to keep other people degraded and denied the same opportunities as we might have.  Christians should all be familiar with many of Jesus’s teachings on this subject:

  • “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Mark 10:25
  •  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”   Mark 10:21
  •  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”  Matthew 16:26

Clearly anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ could not put profit or pleasure above conscience. Jesus was all about helping others even at the expense of his own life.  His entire mission was to help those who were poor, sick or downtrodden.  Is there anyone who could do this without a conscience?  Perhaps we have focused too much in the past few decades on success and getting ahead.  This intense focus may have allowed many of us to put our consciences aside with the result that they seem to have atrophied or in many cases disappeared.  Too many people now measure success by how much money they have made and not how many people they have helped. Perhaps it is time we start focusing on conscience again.  Pleasure without conscience is simply hedonism.

Ok, time for questions:

What pleasures do you have that you may sacrifice your conscience for?  Do you think it is possible to have both conscience and pleasure?  What does it mean to have an “ethical” conscience?  Can we have too much conscience?  Do you think people should have more pleasure or more conscience?  Why?  What about yourself? Where do you fall on this issue?

Life is just beginning.

I wrote this blog more than four years ago.  Many have read it during the past few years.  With hindsight, I can see that we have gone further down the path.  Our political systems are rife with a lack of conscience.  Furthermore, this lack of conscience is justified by a “Prosperity Gospel” which preaches that:  financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. 

In other words, that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth.  Thus, if you are wealthy, you are a “true believer”, anointed by God and deserving of your wealth.  The poor and sick are not true believers and thus are deserving of their fate and little or no sympathy or help.

Too many of us have given up on conscience and have become more and more Amoral.  We don’t care what we do or the consequences of our actions as long as they are “legal.”  Unfortunately, the law has never been a good barometer for ethics and morality.  The law has too frequently been usurped by the rich and powerful to promote their own self interests.   A history of the Supreme Court decisions in the USA would show this truth as would the Nazi Laws in Germany during the 30’s or the slavery and apartheid laws that existed throughout history in many parts of the world.   Law does not make right.  It never did and it never will.

A Simple Man Meets Faust:

In this world of juxtaposition and dialectical opposites, there does not seem to be any two individuals who could be further apart than Ricky Van Shelton’s Simple Man and Goethe’s Faust.  However, looks and paradigms can often be deceiving.

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A Simple Man (since we don’t know his actual name he will remain a “Simple Man”) is a good old country boy.  We presume he is a blue collar worker, never went to college and probably does some hard manual labor.  He loves to hunt, fish and drink with Bubba, Billy Joe and the other guys.  He is everyman’s down to earth guy.  He does not worry about the future but takes one day at a time.  His thoughts are more likely to meander around his next fishing hole than to try to plumb the meaning of the universe.

faust in study

Faust for all apparent purposes has not a thing in common with a Simple Man.  Faust is complex, morose, introverted, elderly and a true intellectual. No doubt Faust went to Oxford or some high class German Academy.  He ranked not only first in his class but first in every academic endeavor he ever undertook. He went on to become the most esteemed Doctor of Philosophy in German and European history.   He loves to read, write, compose and publish esoteric treatises on the nature of the universe and the meaning of reality.  Faust is first among thinkers and intellectuals.

Well, there you have it. Two diametrically opposed male personalities.  A Simple Man and his mirror image Faust.  But beware!  Appearances can be deceiving. Things may not always be as they seem.  Could it be that Faust and a Simple Man have more in common than you would think?  Follow me as we examine a dialogue between a Simple Man and his wife and a dialogue between Faust and Mephistopheles.  Note similarities.  Note differences.  A Simple Man wants to find peace of mind and his “baby” does not seem to understand his real needs.  Mephistopheles finds Faust also distraught and agitated.  Despite Faust’s soaring intellect, he is unhappy with his life and the success he has achieved.  He responds to Mephistopheles, the devil, who purports to be able to give Faust the happiness he desires.

country guy with woman

A Simple Man: (Lyrics and Music by Ricky Van Shelton)

I don’t know why you wanna start with me

I ain’t done nothin’ far as I can see

And I’m worn out from working too hard

Why don’t you give me a break.

faust with woman 2

Faust:  (Music by Gounod, Lyrics by Goethe)

All to know, all in earth and heaven.

No light illumines the visions, ever

thronging my brain ; no peace is given,

And I linger, thus sad and weary,

Without power to sunder the chain

Binding my soul to life always dreary.

Nought do I see! Nought do I know

  • Both men are worn down and worn out.  Both are feeling hopeless.

 A Simple Man:

I know that lately things ain’t been so good

I’ll make it up just like I told you I would

But I’m tired and I wanna sit down

To ease a sore backache

Faust: 

Again the light of a new day !

O death ! when will thy dusky wings

Above me hover and give me rest?

  • Both men want peace and rest

frying pan

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

I wanna a job and a piece of land

Three squares in my frying pan

Don’t seem so hard to me to understand

Faust:

Cursed be all of man’s vile race !

Cursed be the chains which bind him in his place!

Cursed be visions false, deceiving!

Cursed the folly of believing!

Cursed be dreams of love or hate !

Cursed be souls with joy elate.

Cursed be science, prayer, and faith!

Cursed my fate in life and death!

Infernal king, arise!

  •  Science, prayer and faith cannot provide the peace each man requires.  Faust has given up on intellectual solutions while a Simple Man still believes in the joys of work, land and food.

 A Simple Man:

You say you got some things to talk about

A lot of problems that we need to work out

But we just end up fighting

Why don’t you give it a rest

I don’t know what else I can say to you

I’m doing everything I know to do

And I can’t give you anything more

When I’m giving my best

faust with woman

Faust:

I sigh for thy kisses,

Its love I demand!

With ardor unwonted

I long now to burn ;

I sigh for the rapture

Of heart and of sense.

  •  What both Faust and a Simple Man really want is love.

country boy in bed

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

I wanna place I can lay my head

Soft woman and a warm bed

A little time off before I’m dead

I’m just a simple man

Faust:

But implore in vain.

Let me thy hand take, and clasp it,

And behold but thy face once again,

Illum’d by that pale light,

From yonder moon that shines,

O’er thy beauteous features shedding

Its faint but golden ray.

  •  Faust is more eloquent but a Simple Man hits the nail on the head.  I just want a soft woman and a warm bed.

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

Faust:

Again the light of a new day !

O death ! when will thy dusky wings

Above me hover and give me rest?

  •  Both the opera and the song leave you with the impression that neither Faust nor a Simple Man obtains the life they want to live.  Something is out of kilter that cannot be set right.  Tragic expectations on the part of both a Simple Man and Faust are never fulfilled in the real world.  Neither books nor hunting, nor ideas nor actions enable either man to find what they are looking for. 

A Zen Master happens to be walking by and overhears the laments of both Faust and a Simple Man. He notes the apparent remorse and confusion of their musings.  He is struck by their sadness and attempts to offer some wisdom which he feels might be consoling.

Zen Master: 

Life cannot be lived through others.  The secret of happiness is to let go of your expectations for happiness and to realize that happiness is only obtained through inner wisdom and not through external ideas or things or people.

You Faust thought that ideas and your intellect could bring you happiness. When this mode failed, you gave your soul up for the immediate pleasures of the world.  You failed in both efforts.

You Simple Man thought that you could escape responsibility for your happiness.  You thought your wife would provide you the succor and tranquility which your lifestyle necessitated. You thought she would be the warm pillow and soft bed who would take care of your weary bones.  You have also failed to find the peace you desired.

Faust:  I am half a man.

Simple Man:  And I the other half!

Zen Master:  Perhaps two halves make a whole.

Time for Questions:

What similarities between a Simple Man and Faust did you find?  What differences did you find?  What if anything surprised you about their thoughts and needs?  Do we think focus more on the differences between people than the similarities?  Would it make a difference in how we view the world if we saw more similarities between people?  Do you think you are very different from most people or very similar?  Why?  How have your differences and similarities affected your life?

Life is Just Beginning.

Once Upon a Time, I thought I knew Everything.

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The older I get, the less I know.  Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?  A friend of mine, Jerry, gave me this quote from Bertrand Russell the other day “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”  The Greek philosopher Socrates was once proclaimed to the wisest man in the world. The day before he died, Socrates declared that he knew nothing.  On that same day, the Oracle at Delphi was asked “Who is the wisest man in the world?”  She replied “Socrates is the wisest man in the world.”  This was reported back to Socrates who said “When I was young, I knew everything but now I know nothing.”  The Oracle, who was never wrong, was asked “How can Socrates be the wisest man in the world when he knows nothing?” She replied “Only the wisest man in the world would know that he knows nothing and have the courage and humility to admit it.”

Facts

We go to school to learn many facts and figures.  We study history to learn the story of humanity, we study physics to learn the theory of the cosmos, we study biology to learn how animals grow and develop and we study science so we will know how the world really works.  We learn more and more and are coerced into theories and opinions and positions.  We become more and more certain that we are wiser and smarter.

The more degrees that are conferred on us, the smarter we are supposed to be.  If we are really smart, we begin to feel that all of these facts and data bits are not really helping us to understand the world.  The older most of us get and the more learned most of us become, the more we suspect that there are no truths to the world.  We begin to see that there are always truths behind the truths that we think we have found.  Our profundities become curiosities as we age until at some point they wither away and become obsolete.  How many theories have you seen that were proven wrong?  How many times have you had to eat humble pie because something you were absolutely positively sure about was proven conclusively wrong?

horrible face

I remember seeing a picture in the paper the other day of a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl.  He was accused of pedophilia and charged with a felony offense.  I took one look at the visage staring out of the paper at me and promptly proclaimed “If there were ever a guy who was a pedophile, he sure is.”  A few weeks later, a more complete investigation proved him completely innocent of all offenses and the young girl admitted that she made the story up for some unknown reason.  I was beyond having egg on my face.  You would think that at my age, I would have learned to avoid a rush to judgment.  I can make no excuses for my blatant stupidity.

Every few months, the media finds some new tragedy or murder case to focus on.  A few years ago it was the Trayvon Martin case.  It seemed that every day we were confronted with some new facts that supported a change in who the media wanted us to think was guilty.  Trayvon initiated the encounter.  Zimmerman initiated the encounter.  Trayvon provoked Zimmerman.  Zimmerman provoked Trayvon.  Trayvon was a good kid.  Zimmerman was a good guy loved by all of his friends.  Trayvon was a racist.  Zimmerman was a racist.

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Tapes, witnesses, photo enlargements, medical information, acoustic information, video tapes, the entire gamut was presented daily with one expert after another telling us what they think.   This same scenario plays itself out over and over again in the media.  The “crime of the century” has been replaced by the “crime of the week.”

Right Way

Each day regardless of what news we read or what cable show we watch, it appears we know more and more about less and less.  What are we doing here folks?  Are they looking for truth or are they selling papers?  Are we voyeurs to some weird witch hunt?  Are we taking sides so we can become right?  If so, we will truly have become a Roman Circus instead of a civilized society of laws and courts and presumptions of innocence until proven guilty.

If we can somehow get pass this media circus that pretends to convey the truth,  there are lessons that we need to learn.  If you remember the famous story Rashomon, you may realize that truth is often a matter of perspective and not hard cold facts.

Time for Questions: 

What can you help do to overcome the types of bias and prejudice that the media often promotes?  How can you avoid your own “rush to judgment?”  What does it mean to “judge not others, less you be judged yourself.”  How often do we see the mote in others eyes but ignore the pole in our own?

Life is just beginning.

“We live in a culture where everyone’s opinion, view, and assessment of situations and people spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, much of it shaped by mindless meanness and ignorance.”  — Mike Barnicle

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