Courage: The Seventh Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Courage is number seven of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Sunday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Give me the ability and courage to make a difference today, no matter how small.

 I have been thinking about courage now for quite some time.  One of my favorite quotes is as follows:

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” — Ralph W. Sockman

Courage has been one of the most salient virtues in my life.  I think about it often.  I am afraid to be a coward but wonder if I am brave.  Is it courage to do things because you are afraid of how you will think about yourself if you do not?  I have tried to test myself often to prevent feeling like a coward.  Caesar said “Cowards die many times before their deaths, but heroes only die once.”  Perhaps, it was Shakespeare who really said this, but the point remains the same.  My father hated cowards and more than once chastised me for being afraid of something.  I can think of too many times in my life when my father would have been sorely disappointed in me.

When I was young, I always took the side of the underdog.  I would defend anyone against a bully.  I hated bullies with a passion.  I still prefer the underdog.  This might explain to some degree why I care about the poor, the sick and the homeless.  Psychologists would say I was overcompensating to try to win my father’s approval.  It really does not matter to me what they say.  There is something poignant and sad about people who have less or are needier than I am.  There is something despicable about people that only care about themselves and are too ready to say “I did it myself.”  One of my favorite poems is:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
  — John Donne

In thinking about courage, I have found that the subject is more complex than it would appear.  I believe that there are five kinds of courage.  Some of us may be stronger in one while others are stronger in another kind of courage.  I would like to list each kind of courage, give you my definition and then say a little about each one. The five types of courage I have found are:

  • Physical courage
  • Intellectual courage
  • Emotional courage
  • Moral courage
  • Spiritual courage

Physical Courage:

physical courageThis type of courage is the most obvious and perhaps least subtle.  The mountain climber, the motorcycle racer, the football player, the sky diver all display what to some of us would seem to be a reckless disregard for life.  Each of these individuals risk life and limb for either fame, fortune, fun or to achieve some goal.  Often money is the least of their motivations for risking their lives.  These people do things that leave most of us awestruck but also inspired.  We watch their events on TV, in the movies and at live shows.  We never fail to be impressed by the exploits and daring do that such individuals undertake.  Risk is the hallmark of their efforts and we note that many of them pay for their risky behaviors.  Death is an ever present companion for these people.  Somehow though, they rise above the fears that chain the rest of us to the TV and they are out there doing what many of us only do in our dreams.

There is another group though that exhibit raw physical courage and they do it for a different set of reasons.  Soldiers, police officers, emergency medical people and fire fighters all risk their lives on a daily basis.  Most of these individuals do it for altruistic motives.  There is not enough money in the world to convince the rest of us to risk our lives like these people do.  No one can say they only do it for the money, since sadly these occupations are not very well paid.  We pay accountants, Wall Street brokers and MBA’s many times more than we pay the people who risk their lives every day to protect the rest of us.

Intellectual Courage:

Death of Socrates JacquesLouisDavidWhat do you do when someone tells you that your ideas are stupid and that you will never amount to anything?   If you are like most of us, you give up and go on to something else.  The person with intellectual courage though is different from the rest of us.  They don’t give up on their ideas.  They plod forward in the face of distain, insults and criticism.  Many times they are dead and buried before the value of their ideas are recognized.  Darwin, Mendel, Pasteur and Copernicus were all ridiculed and ostracized for many years before their ideas were accepted.  Socrates was executed for his ideas.  Indeed, here is what Socrates said at his trial:

“But some of you will ask, ‘Don’t you regret what you did since now it might mean your death?’ To these I answer, ‘You are mistaken.  A good man should not calculate his chances of living or dying.  He should only ask himself whether he is doing right or wrong—whether his inner self is that of a good man or of an evil one.’  From Plato’s Apology.

Now I ask you, was Socrates a brave and courageous man?  Would you have the conviction to die for your ideas?

Emotional Courage:

moral courageI have a good friend of mine who will not go to funerals.  They make him feel very sad and he tries to avoid such feelings.  No one of us likes to feel sad.  It takes a kind of courage to go to a funeral.  What do you say at a funeral to the friends and relatives of the departed one?  How do you act?  What if you did not know the person very well?  There are many ways to feel embarrassed or like a fish out of water at a funeral.  Easier to stay home then go.  But it takes a certain kind of courage to deal with emotional risk.  Any courage is difficult because of the risk.  Emotional risk entails looking stupid, feeling stupid or having to deal with difficult feelings.  A person with emotional courage confronts these situations with a degree of bravery and élan that escapes many of us.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  — Nelson Mandela

emotional courageOne of the greatest fears that many people have is called “stage fright” or fear of public speaking.  Many professional speakers and actors/actresses feel significant stage fright.  Actress Carol Burnett was so nervous that she threw up before many of her performances.  Many of us would never think of getting up on a stage.  I know that people call it stage fright, but it is not really about the stage, it is really about us.  None of us wants to look stupid and particularly not in front of hundreds or people.  It takes emotional courage to deal with life.  All of us have it, but many of us choose not to exercise it.  We simply spend our lives trying to avoid situations that might make us look dumb or embarrass ourselves.  The people with emotional courage deal with these situations and take the risk that the rest of us hide from.

Moral Courage:

malalaThe world is full of examples of moral courage.  However, to my way of thinking, the amount of moral cowardice far outweighs the shining examples of moral courage.  The number of Kings, Gandhis, Mandelas. Parks, Kellers and Kyis are dwarfed by the number of moral cowards who turn the quote I noted above around.  These are the people who when in the majority would tyrannize the minorities.  They are the moral cowards who use their positions to foster hatred and bigotry and intolerance towards the disadvantaged and weak.  They prey on the sick and quote-moral-courage-is-a-more-rare-commodity-than-bravery-in-battle-or-great-intelligence-robert-kennedy-345839hungry and would deny benefits or help to anyone who is not a member of their club or affiliation.  They go through life pretending to be good people and deluding themselves that they are.

Conversely, we have those cowards who when in the minority are afraid to risk.  They are afraid to speak out when they are surrounded by racists and bigots.  They are afraid of what their friends and neighbors might think if they stand up for their beliefs.  So they say and do nothing.  They find it easy to ignore the admonition that:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”  — Edmund Burke

This group of moral cowards also includes the pious so-called Christians who feel that all they need to do to guarantee their ascent into heaven is to spout religious slogans from the bible. They conveniently forget what Jesus himself did and what the apostle James noted:

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” — James 2:17

Jesus said:

“So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” — Matthew 7:21

I understand both of these passages to mean that a good person must do good deeds.  It is not enough to have good thoughts or to say “I believe, I believe.”  You must also be able to say “I do good.”  “I do good.”  And what good do you do?  Do you stand up for those who are being persecuted or do you join in their persecution?  Moral courage is standing up for your beliefs.  It is standing up for other people.  It is not just thinking about “What would Jesus do.”  It is doing what Jesus would do.  Jesus would not be silent in the face of persecution of others.

Spiritual Courage:

In my mind, spiritual is the ability to face the uncertainly of life and to greet each day with a sense of awe and hope that the world I can be a better person and that I can help make the world a better place.  If we look at the word spirit, we can find the following definition:

“The inner character of a person, thought of as different from the material person we can see and touch.”  — Cambridge Dictionary

The world greets us each day with new possibilities.  Many of these possibilities entail risk.  Risk of dying in a car accident.  Risk of dying in a shooting.  Risk of being raped.  Risk of losing a loved one.  Risk of disease.  Risk of unhappiness.  The list of risks we face each day is endless.  We are sensitized to these risks by the onslaught of news and media that bombards us minute by minute and second by second with ghastly deeds that journalists love to print.

Fear is ever present in our society today and is it any wonder?  The media exalt in horror stories that should have most of us seeking sanctuary in a deep dark cave.  We long to be  hidden from the persecution that seems to engulf our daily lives.  Catholics fighting Protestants.  Jews fighting Muslims.  Shia fighting Sunnis.  Tea Party people hating liberals.  Blacks and Whites inflicting insults and defamations on each other.  Women and children subjected to abuse every second of the day.  Wars raging in one country or another.  The wealthy despising the poor and the poor envying the wealthy.  Life is portrayed as nothing but an unmitigated disaster waiting for a tragedy to befall us or so these stories would seem to have us believe.  The news becomes simply a drug whose side effects are to convince each of us to drop out of life and to give up on the world.

“During my 2009 service as an Air Force chaplain in Iraq, I saw countless examples of heroism.  However, the most spiritually heroic act I witnessed was the prayer of a soldier who asked God to forgive the insurgents who had killed his battle buddy.”

Hero’s Highway: A Chaplain’s Journey Toward Forgiveness Inside a Combat Hospital

I wonder that anyone has the courage to get out of bed each day.  It is astonishing to me that any of us has the desire to do good for the world or to make a difference.  It hardly seems possible to roll back the evil and injustices that pour forth each day from every corner of the globe.  So why bother?  One atrocity surpasses and begets the next atrocity.

courageroarNevertheless, in the face of all this iniquity, the majority of humankind has a spiritual courage that defies logic.  The majority of people want to do good for the world. The majority of people are good and most people try to leave the world a better place then they found it.  This is truly an amazing observation.  More people are spiritual heroes than not.  Every day anyone who has the courage and strength to get out of bed and to start a new day is someone who shows a sense of spiritual courage.  It would be easier to hide and to do nothing then to face the daily rigors of life on our planet.  Yet, that is what the majority of people do each day.  They get out of bed.  They go to work.  They volunteer.  They innovate and create.  They campaign for their ideals.  They build.  They love.  They pay taxes.  They die.  And the cycle starts all over again for the next generation.

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” — Helen Keller

Time for Questions:

What kinds of courage do you have?  What kind of courage do you wish you had more of?  Why?  What could you do to find more courage in your life? Do you think it would make a difference?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.  Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.  We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” — Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

Faith:  The Fifth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Faith-of-a-childFaith is number five of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Friday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • “Help me to be as well as to do and to have Faith in the future by living today the best that I can.”

 Please listen to Pete Seeger’s rendition of:  “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” for a musical version of what Faith is really about.  Read the comments about Pete Seeger.  He was a prime example of a man that had Faith. 

Faith is the first of the three major theological virtues.  As I thought about preparing this blog, I asked myself the question, “What is the difference between Faith and Trust?”  Or perhaps there is no difference?  I wondered if one has to be religious or have a religious affiliation to have Faith.  Most people think of Faith in terms of a belief in God or some other deity.

faithI decided that I must first understand what Faith really means.  To do this, it is helpful to deconstruct how we think about Faith and how we use the word.   I thought about how we use both Trust and Faith in common language.  For instance we use trust in English as follows:

  • Trust me!
  • Do you trust yourself?
  • Have a little trust in me.

Now if you try substituting the word Faith for Trust, it is obvious that in the first two instances, it just does not fit:

  • Faith me!
  • Do you Faith yourself?
  • Have a little Faith in me.

You will notice that in the third instance, you can substitute the word Faith for the word trust.  A grammarian would quickly note that the word Trust can be used either as a noun or a verb whereas the word Faith is primarily a noun and cannot usually be used as a verb.

It might be interesting to compare dictionary definitions of Faith and trust.

Faith: http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Strong belief or trust in someone or something
  • Belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
  • A system of religious beliefs

Trust:  http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
  • Dependence on something future or contingent :  hope
  • Reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit <bought furniture on trust

mountain climbingI think you can readily see that there is a certain degree of overlap between the two concepts. However, Faith generally seems to convey a more sectarian or theological concept of belief whereas Trust is generally used in more secular terms.  Thus, we don’t “trust” God but we have Faith in her.  Faith seems to be a term that is not contingent upon any kind of physical or logical proof.  We might not trust a person with our money without proof that they are “bonded” or trustworthy, but we would not expect such displays of material evidence when it comes to having Faith in God.  So what is the relevance to this in our lives?  What good is Faith if we can substitute trust for faith and have more security in the long run?

He replied, “Because you have so little Faith. Truly I tell you, if you have Faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20

childThe answer seems to be (IMHO) that sometimes we can trust without evidence but generally we are better off trusting with some element of surety that can mitigate the risk of our trust being unfounded or mistaken.  Whereas, there is little or no evidence that can prove your need or desire to have Faith.  You must have Faith like a parent has love for a child.  It is unconditional.  You have Faith simply because you want to believe.  You have Faith because you accept something without conditions.  You need no proof or evidence to support your Faith.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Should you have Faith without proof?  What would a life without Faith be like?  Would we be safer or happier with less Faith?

“On a long journey of human life, Faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.”  — Buddha

Buddha thought that Faith is a companion that we cannot ignore on our journey through life.   There is a story about Mother Teresa that when she was visiting Iowa many years ago and was being interviewed by a somewhat cynical journalist; she was asked if she really thought she was making a difference to the poor in India.  Her reported reply was “I am not called upon to make a difference.  I am called upon to have Faith.”  If that sounds somewhat evasive, consider the following professionals who toil diligently and with great dedication:

  • Teachersblack couple
  • Doctors
  • Psychologists
  • Writers
  • Philanthropists
  • Artists

There are no doubt dozens of other professionals who toil in areas that are not readily amenable to evidence that they are “making a difference.”  As an educator and consultant, I can readily attest to the fact that seldom if ever is there “evidence” or concrete proof that my actions and thoughts have made a difference on my students or clients.  Most of us work on day after day, motivated by one force and one force only.  That force is the power of Faith.

You must not lose Faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Each time I write a blog, I write with the hope that something I say will help someone have a better day or lead a better life.  I have now written over 800 blogs and I have received about two dozen or so letters or emails telling me how much they appreciate my writing or how much it has helped them.  The percentage of letters received is about 3.4 percent of the blogs I have written and whose readers have been moved to write to me or drop me a comment.  And that is fine.  People are busy and many times the thought of writing to a writer is something that readers never think of.

big-challengesFortunately, the 3.4 percent of respondents have been more than enough to help me keep my Faith.  (Should I really need such sustenance if I have Faith?) Yes, I have Faith that my writing is making a difference to the world but alas, I have no proof for the empiricists, the materialists or the skeptics.  I have to ask you as well as myself to believe that I am.  It is Faith that keeps me motivated.  Without Faith, life would appear to be a futile waste of time.  Faith helps us to carry on when everything and everyone is saying to quit.  The woman in the life raft, the athlete with a severe injury, the parents with a disabled child, the poor fighting hunger, the righteous fighting injustice are all sustained by the power of Faith.

19176-Have-FaithFaith can believe everything
That we say.
Belief can increase the strength
Of Faith.
Belief is pure,
Faith is sure.
Belief looks around
To see the truth.
Faith looks within
Not only to feel the truth
But also to become the truth
.  —- Sri Chinmoy

Time for Questions:

What do you have Faith in?  What helps you to maintain your Faith?  Where would you like to have more Faith?  Do you think we have too much or too little Faith in the world?

Life is just beginning.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” —- Saint Augustine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gandhi’s Seventh Social Sin: Politics Without Principle

We need to start off this discussion of Gandhi’s Seventh Social sin with a review of the definition of the term “Principle.”  There are many who would argue that politics today has too many principles.  Each side whether Democrat or Republican is firmly ensconced in their philosophical party principles which leave no room for discussion never mind negotiation.  A firm conviction that we cannot negotiate on “principle” has led us to some of the worst political situations we have seen in the long history of the USA.  We have always had “party” politics and there have always been back-room negotiations and political logrolling but never in our history have we seen the type of standoffs that seem to characterize Washington politics today.  Could these political standoffs be caused by rigid adherence to Party Principles?  Is Gandhi off-base with his Seventh Social Sin?  Do we need less principle in politics and not more?  Let us look at what the term “Principle” means by reviewing three different definitions or perspectives. 

Here are three different views of the term Principle

  1. A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.  – Online Dictionary
  2.  A basic truth, law, or assumption – The Free Dictionary
  3. A principle is something primary that helps in explaining phenomena. A principle can be some existing factor in nature (principles of nature and being, or it can be a logical proposition or judgment (principles of reason) that is a starting point of a valid argumentation. The principles of reason cannot be proven, since in order to prove anything you need to have a starting point, and a starting point is a principle.  – http://www.hyoomik.com/phi205/arche.htm#arche2

Here are some examples for the third definition.  These are: “Principles of Reason.”  I add these so we can be more concrete in our discussion and less theoretical, if that is possible given the nature of the discussion.  Nevertheless, perhaps these examples can help us think more clearly concerning the concept of principles. 

  • The principle of non-contradiction: the same thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. The same proposition cannot be both true and false.
  • The principle of excluded middle: Either a thing is or it is not, there is no third possibility.
  • The principle of the reason of being.  Every being has a reason of its existence either in itself or in something else.
  • The principle of finality: Every agent acts for an end.
  • The principle of causality: Every effect has a cause.
  • The principle of identity: Every being is that which it is.  Each being is separated in its existence from other beings.

We have two issues raised by Gandhi’s Seventh Social sin that I think we must answer. 

First, does politics really need principles?  What purpose do they serve and why are they needed?

Second, can you have too many principles in politics and how do we determine if that is the case?

To answer the first set of questions, let us see what the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence has to say about Gandhi’s interpretation of this sin:

Politics Without Principles:  Gandhi said those who firmly believe in nonviolence should never stand for elections, but they should elect representatives who are willing to understand and practice the philosophy. Gandhi said an elected representative is one on whom you have bestowed your power of attorney. Such a person should be allowed to wield authority only as long as s/he enjoys your confidence. When politicians indulge in power games, they act without principles. To remain in power at all cost is unethical. Gandhi said when politicians (or anyone else, for that matter) give up the pursuit of Truth they, or in the case of parties, would be doomed. Partisan politics, lobbying, bribing, and other forms of malpractice that are so rampant in politics today is also unprincipled.  Politics has earned the reputation of being dirty.  It is so because we made it dirty. We create power groups to lobby for our cause and are willing to do anything to achieve our goals.  Not many among human beings have learned how to resist temptation, so who is to blame for the mess we find ourselves in?

In this interpretation, Gandhi implies that the “Evil” of politics comes about because of the lack of ethics that characterizes much political gamesmanship.  We would have to assume that the need for principles reflected by Gandhi’s ideas is connected to the need for a higher standard of behavior then what we most often see in our politicians.  Thus, politicians are unprincipled and unethical if they engage in lobbying, power games and other manipulative endeavors.  However, Gandhi does not clearly describe what an ethical political principle would be. We have to assume that most politics as practiced today would be considered as unprincipled by Gandhi.  Yet he does not provide us with a clear set of ethical political principles.   I conclude my answer to the question: Why are principles needed? as follows:  To provide a clear ethical path for political behavior and to help guide politicians in their search for truth.  

For the second set of questions (see above) we are dealing with a different issue.  If we accept that some political principles (unknown what they are) may be needed, then we must ask if too many of these principles might indeed be injurious to the political process.  I have already noted that we are frustrated today with politicians who are taking oaths to standby their party principles and thus gridlocking the entire political process.  Does this mean, we already have too many principles or do we have too many of the wrong principles?  To answer this question, let us take as an example a key principle that the Republican Party has stood for and see how our system of political ethics might be played out using this principle as a guide.

It is well known that many of our elected officials have taken an oath not to increase taxes under any conditions.  The Norquist Pledge as it has been called was taken by “95% of Republican Congressional representatives.”   Many would argue that this is a bedrock principle of the Republican Party.  However, is it really a principle?  Is it a fundamental truth?  Looking at the three definitions for a principle that started this blog, does the Tax Pledge meet the requirements of a “Principle?”  If so, what evidence is there to link truth to the assumed outcome that we expect to be attained by a rigid adherence to this principle?  Will not increasing taxes always benefit the public good? Is it always best for the common people if taxes are decreased?  Will we all benefit by having fewer taxes?  A fundamental principle should have some fundamental truths or facts to support it otherwise what is the point of the principle?  Either a principle is true or it is a hypothesis.  If it is true, the results should be self-evident.  If the principle is merely a hypothesis, than good logic suggests that we should not be too certain of its validity until more evidence exists to either prove or disprove the principle. 

The logic of my argument so far seems to move me towards the suggestion that “Not allowing any tax increases” does not constitute a valid ethical principle.  I see no evidence that the greater good is always served by this principle.  Perhaps there are other party principles that might be less amenable to my critique since I simply selected one of the “principles” we hear most about and are most familiar with.  No doubt “too many” of these so called “party” principles would wreak havoc with our political system.  IN fact, we see this happening already.  I suggest we should call these unsubstantiated or principles either as false principles or hypothetical principles.  This would give more credibility to Gandhi’s Seventh Social sin.  Unfortunately, it still does not answer the question as to what a set of Ethical Political Principles might look like.  The following principles are one set that has some merit.   It includes eight principles that were taken from a paper by John L. Perkins titled:  Humanism and Morality.     

Non-maleficence: Do not harm yourself or other people. 
Beneficence: Help yourself and other people. 
Autonomy: Allow rational individuals to make free and informed choices. 
Justice: Treat people fairly: treat equals equally, unequal’s unequally. 
Utility: Maximize the ratio of benefits to harm for all people. 
Fidelity: Keep your promises and agreements 
Honesty: Do not lie, defraud, deceive or mislead. 
Privacy: Respect personal privacy and confidentiality.

You can see from looking at these principles that our problem is still not solved.  Some of these principles conflict with others and life is still not simple.  The Principle of Fidelity suggests that the Norquist Pledgers are doing the right thing.  However, you may also notice that this principle may be in conflict with one or more other principles on our list.  For instance, what if allowing a tax increase actually maximizes the ratio of benefits to all people?  Thus, the principle of keeping your Norquist Oath is in direct opposition to a principle that says to do no harm to others.  Very confusing!  Alas, life is never simple and no moral or ethical code can be found that does not have both contradictions and complexities that make conduct difficult.  This latter fact makes a strong case for holding any principle as a hypothesis and not allowing ourselves to be overly strident in its interpretation.  

In conclusion, I must admit to finding this Seventh Sin of Gandhi’s to be a very difficult one to follow and to provide any kind of a prescription for.  I discovered many authors who argued that an ethical or moral code for politicians is impossible and even counterproductive.  I also found many who argued that the need for a moral code for politicians is as important as for any other field of endeavor.  I lean towards trusting Gandhi in support of this Sin.  He has proven to be wise and insightful in almost all of the beliefs that are associated with his life.  Perhaps, I will see more clearly the argument for this Seventh Social Sin as I grow in wisdom.  For now, I am content to accept that our politicians need:

  1.  Moral guidance and moral principles to conduct politics with.
  2. The ability to search for truth as a fundamental principle underlying all other principles
  3. The acceptance and recognition that they may be wrong and being too exclusive of other options is a recipe for ineffective government and politics.  

Time for Questions:

What do you think? Do our politicians need a moral code or set of principles?  Do they already have too many principles? How strongly should they adhere to their principles? Should they be willing to compromise on these principles?  Is not allowing a tax increase really a principle?   Should they stand firm on this principle regardless of the outcomes?  When should we be willing to compromise our own principles? 

Life is just beginning.

 

 

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 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.  I have been teaching in college since 1999 and one question I have 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?”  Would you 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 experiences over the years confirm much of what Hunter says in his book. 

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 is a central part of character development.  Character development stands alone as a primary developmental need for any civilized society.  However, as Gandhi notes, we have let our passion for commerce and money outrun our passion for purpose and character.  

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

“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 noted 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 harmless and benign diversions that keep the public’s mind off of character or moral development.  Indeed watching sports figures and media figures today exhibits 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 with 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? 

Ok, 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.

 

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.

 

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