My Four Best of Everything:  – Part 3         

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This is Part 3 of my four best of everything.  In this final part, I would like to share with you my four favorite ideas.

For those of you who missed Part 1 and Part 2, this was my introduction.

This week I am doing what I call my four best of everything.  Everything that matters to me anyway.  Perhaps I should say it is my four favorites of everything that I admire in the literary world because best is such a qualitative term.  There may be little difference between the word favorite and the word best, however, using the term best is more provocative and usually ends up in arguments or debates.  Since I do not want to be judgmental, I will use the term favorites in the text of this blog.

I am sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more ideas you have the better.  Don’t be shy.  Use any language you want to share your ideas with the rest of the world.  Let us know what you like and why you like it.  Plenty of room in the blogosphere.

My Four Favorite Ideas:

internal-coverIf you think about the ideas or premises or nostrums that guide your life, you will soon notice that we have many ideas that along our journey we have adopted.  The sources of these ideas are vast.  Fairy tales and children’s stories give us ideas such as “A stitch in time saves nine” or the “The race does not always go to the swift” or “Those who do not plan ahead may starve in the winter.”  Many of our ideas about living no come from our parents and family.  My mother used to say such things as “Ignorance is bliss” and “If you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves.”  My father was fond of saying “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.”  He also used to like to say, “You have nothing to fear from the dead, only the living.”  These two later beliefs have guided a great deal of my life.

As we grow up and go to school, leave home and get a job, we no doubt pick up more ideas that we will covertly and sometimes overtly use to guide our lives.  By guiding, I mean we will use these ideas to make choices that impact the direction of our lives.  One of the many ideas that I carry in my brain came from Dr. George Box of the University of Wisconsin.  He said, “All models are wrong, some are useful.”  This premise has guided much of my working life.  I have used this Box’s thought when consulting to find a more productive way of addressing organizational changes that are needed in a client’s business.

However, since this blog is about the best or at least my favorites, I need to start discussing my four favorite ideas.  There is no particular relevance to the following order.

There is No Truth:

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Obviously, if you accept my truth, then it poses a paradox.  How can this be true if there is no truth?  But in many ways, that is the nature of most truths.  They are paradoxical.  If they are relative, they are not always true which is a contradiction.  If they are absolute, there are usually exceptions that can be found which makes them false.  What a dilemma!  From the time we are born we are taught to say the truth, speak the truth, search for the truth, but we are all liars.  We don’t know what the truth is and there are many times we would not say it if we did.

If someone came to your front door and said, “Is your mother home, I want to kill her”, what would you tell them?  Would you admit that she was home, if she was?  I doubt it.  We all say we want the truth, but the fact is that many of us will never find the truth because (As our leaders believe) and as Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.”

A friend of mine explained his version of the truth to me several years ago.  He said “Imagine a bookshelf with five shelves.  On the bottom shelf, I put things that people tell me that are opinions and unsubstantiated or uncorroborated pieces of information.  As time goes by and I find more evidence in support of this so called “truth”, I will move the bit of information to the 4th shelf.  Each time I get more evidence it goes up a shelf.  On the top shelf, I have things that I believe are true beyond a ‘reasonable’ but not absolute doubt.  For the time being, I accept the top shelf ideas as true, but I hold out the possibility that I will later find some bit of evidence that invalidates even this Top Shelf truth.”  I like this model of truth.  Let me give you an example of how it plays out for me.

About two months ago, I came across an article that said “In 30 years, all beef and diary farms will be dead.  Things of the past.”  Living in Wisconsin, I was astonished by this bit of information.  I did not put much credibility into the idea.  Given my predilection for cheese, steak and butter I could not reasonably accept any truth to this idea.  Nevertheless, I put it on the bottom shelf of my “Truth Bookcase.”  A few weeks later, I was attending the Annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus in Minnesota. This past year it dealt with the environment and global changes to it.  I was surprised when one of the speakers echoed the same idea that I had heard a few weeks ago.  Namely that diary and beef farms would in twenty or thirty years mostly be a thing of the past.  I moved this thought up a shelf.  Two days ago, I was reading the local newspaper and they had an article about diary farms in Wisconsin.  According to this article, ten percent or 800 diary farms in Wisconsin went out of business this past year and there was no sign that the trend would not continue.  I was astounded. I had no idea that the diary industry was so shaky.  I moved the original idea that at least diary if not the beef industry would be gone in thirty years up another shelf.  Two shelves to go.

Thus, truth becomes a process. It is not a final goal.  There is no final absolute truth.  It is a nominal, like in quality improvement that we can never reach.  We can only get closer and closer, but we can never reach a truth that is God like.  The truth that humans can know will never be infallible.

Everything Will Change:

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This idea seems so obvious that I almost ashamed to list it as one of my favorites.  Nevertheless, I keep having to remind myself that “This too will pass.”  Life is a stream of events and even if Santayana was right in that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”, there is still nothing in the past that will ever be recreated exactly as it happened one hundred or one thousand years ago.  Heraclitus was also right when he said, “You never step in the same river twice.”

All is change.  If we could see the atoms of time that surround us, I am sure that we would see a stream of “time” atoms that are flowing like a river with swift currents and eddies and backwaters.  This is the flow of time and the river of change.  Sometimes going backwards but inevitably surging forward and sweeping everything out of its way.

We poor humans are caught up in this river and we must do our best to keep from drowning.  We are swept along like so much flotsam.  The river of time that we are in is invisible to the naked eye, but this does not stop it from changing the lives of those swept along by its currents.  Every day, we deal with new events while the old events keep playing out.  A continuous series of changes.  New wars, new disasters, new diseases, new horrors all mixed in with new ideas, new joys, new births, new technologies, new celebrations.

There are those who we say are “stuck in the past.”  The good old days never die for many.  We see the sad efforts that many have to hold onto the past or to “Make America Great Again.”  Why, can’t things just be like the were when I was a kid?  Movies were twenty-five cents and a bag of popcorn was ten cents.  The good guys were good guys and the bad guys were bad.  Police officers walked the streets and helped people in need.  It was happy days.

African Americans were denied voting rights and the basic liberties as stated in the constitution.  A women’s place was in the kitchen and a man was the undisputed king of home.  White people won all the wars they started, and Indians stayed on the reservation.  Mexicans came over to pick tomatoes and then went back home.  A child’s place was to be seen and not heard and the World Series was the greatest sporting event in the world that only White Americans played.  Oh my!  What ever happened to the good old days.

You Can’t Take It with You:

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Who says I can’t take it with me?  I sure as hell am going to try.  Like Pharaoh, I am going to build a big mausoleum and I am going to put my house, motorcycles, cars, rings, watches, shoes, clothes, wife, kids and anything else I own right beside me when I die.  I am going to collect the biggest batch of things that the world has ever seen, and I am going to have it all buried with me.  Isn’t that what life is all about?  Collecting stuff, collecting things.  Shopping for more stuff and more things until we drop dead.

Maybe I am getting carried away here a bit.  Of course, I can’t take it with me.  Pharaoh might have had it buried with him, but it did not take the tomb raiders long to take it back.  Maybe you can get something that can’t be taken away?  A building named after you.  An airport or street named after you.  A testimonial placed somewhere in your honor.

Alas, people are fickle.   Buildings get torn down.  Name places change with the whims of those in power.  There are only so many airports and streets and there are millions of people clamoring to have their names in places that they think will insure their posterity.   You can’t even take fame with you.  In a hundred years or so no one will remember who you were.

One of the famous tropes among baby boomers is remembering where they were when JFK died. I once asked one of my freshmen college classes this same question and to my astonishment got blank looks.  I could not believe it when one of them said, “Who was JFK?”  Who will remember you when you die?  Maybe your wife and a few friends assuming they outlive you.  So what can you take with you?  Fame, fortune, power, money?  What did Marc Anthony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar say: “The Evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  There is nothing on this earth that you can take with you.  There is nothing that will outlive the entropy and erosion that will destroy all the mightiest monuments that have ever been built.  Everything else is an illusion that you take with your to your grave but that is as far as it will go.

Love is the Only Real Purpose in Life:

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You can spend your life looking for its meaning or you can spend your life trying to find its purpose.  Your search will uncover many ideas but none of them will ever suffice.  Nothing will satisfy your quest until you realize that love is the only purpose a human life exists for.  Every prophet who ever existed recognized this simple truth.  Love is the only thing that gives life meaning and purpose.  It is so simple that it escapes many of us.

We look for purpose and meaning in our work, our jobs, our acquisitions, our accomplishments, our credentials and our status, but none of these give us happiness.  The only satisfaction we get in life is from loving others.  The individual who does not know love for others lives a lonely unhappy life.  Love is the power that makes life worth living.  As Jackie Wilson sang in his song Higher and Higher: “You know your love, keeps on lifting me higher and higher.”

I sometimes think love is one of life’s great mysteries.  I have spent a great deal of my life asking the question “What is love?”  I am 73 years old and I am still puzzled as to what love really is.  Is love the same as passion?  Is love good sex?  Is love caring for someone else?  Is love simply wishing no harm for anyone else?  Does love need reciprocity?

People use the term love for many things.  I love my car.  I love my dog.  I love my Nikes.  I love you.  I love him.  I love her.  I love everybody!  Jesus said that love was more than just words.  Love exists in the doing.  How do I show my love for others?  “Greater love has no one than this, that they will lay down their life for another.” – John 15:13.   Do I need to die for someone else to show true love?

I don’t believe that loving things is love.  I don’t think loving my car or my Nikes is true love.  For that matter, I do not think that loving my life is true love or even that loving my wife is true love.  I think true love is a more intangible quality that we can only approximate.  To know true love is to be a lover in a more universal sense.  True love seems most evident during a crisis.  I think that the people who stayed behind on the Titanic to let others have a seat in the lifeboats were true lovers.  I think Harriet Tubman (who ran the underground railroad) was a true lover.  I think Martin Luther King was a true lover.  Lovers are not perfect people by any means, but they know that life is more than just loving oneself or even another single individual.

Let’s be clear here.  I love my wife and I love my sister, but does that make me a true lover?  Not necessarily.  What if I love my wife and sister but I hate immigrants?  What if I love you but I hate Black people or Latino people or people who belong to another religion or another country?  To know true love one cannot hate anyone.  Today we hear a vocal minority decrying “haters.”  However, these same people hate Democrats, liberals, Non-Christians, Gays, immigrants and minorities.  They may love Trump, McConnell, Nunes, Christians and Republicans but they are more haters than lovers.  Jesus did not say “Only love those who are related to you or whom you like.”  He did not say that you can pick and choose who you love.

Love is the most important journey of our lives.  To find true love is to find a love for the world both in concrete and abstract terms.  It is to love globally as well as locally.  It is to love non-kin as well as kin.  It is to love the rich as well as the poor.  It is to love the sick as well as the healthy.  It is to love Democrats as well as Republicans.  Probably no task is more difficult, but no task has more promise for humanity and for our own souls.

Well, this concludes my best of everything series.  In Part 1, I covered some of my book preferences.  In Part 2, I covered more literary ground and in this final Part 3, I have covered some of the ideas that I think are my favorite guides for trying to live a good life.  I am certainly no exemplar of any of these ideas.  I journey down the path and get stuck in some bogs.  On other days, I take a wrong turn.  I often hesitate when I should be charging forward.  On some days, I even go backwards.  My life has regrets, recriminations and misgivings that would fill an NFL stadium.  I know right from wrong and still too often choose the wrong.  But one of my other guides is “do not kill the message because you don’t like the messenger.”  You may need to find your own guides, but you won’t go wrong with any of the four that I have described in this blog.  Try them and let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

My Four Best of Everything:  – Part 2         

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I started this blog two weeks ago and became sidetracked what with Trumps possible impeachment and all.  Alas, my dreams did not come true.

In Part 1, I listed my four favorite fiction writers and my four favorite non-fiction writers with an explanation of how and why I picked each of them.  In Part 2, I am going to list my four favorite writings.  I will finish in Part 3 with my 4 favorite ideas.

For those of you who missed Part 1, this was my introduction.

This week I am doing what I call my four best of everything.  Everything that matters to me anyway.  Perhaps I should say it is my four favorites of everything I admire in the literary world because best is such a qualitative term.  There may be little difference between the word favorite and the word best, however, using the term best is more provocative and usually ends up in arguments or debates.  Since I do not want to be judgmental, I will use the term favorites in the text of this blog.

I am sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more ideas you have the better.  Don’t be shy.  Use any language you want to share your ideas with the rest of the world.  Let us know what you like and why you like it.  Plenty of room in the blogosphere.

My Four Favorite Writings:

Ecclesiastes: 

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Was the author of this bible book being a nihilist, a skeptic or an idealist?  I think it will depend on your own interpretation.  For me, the message of this book is summed up in four words “Vanity, all is vanity.”  We are driven by vanity and ego.  Our society relishes fame, fortune and power.  Those who have them, guard them jealously.  Those who don’t will fight and die for them.  And what are the results of this obsession?

Famous people hide from those that made them famous because they can no longer live a public life.  In many cases, they are hunted by nutcases who believe that they can be famous by an association with the famous no matter what kind of a bizarre twist it might involve.  The death of John Lennon comes to my mind as I write these words.  Often fame itself is fleeting and the aftermath can be a feeling of abandonment, loneliness and worthlessness.  Witness the number of famous people who take their own lives.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The quest for power destroys the soul of the power holder.  Power becomes an end in itself rather than a means to obtain some good.  We can see this problem when we look at the US Congress.  The power that these congressmen hold is all too often corrupted by their desire to hold on to this power regardless of the moral and ethical conundrums such desire involves.

Fortune hunters think that they can achieve happiness by becoming millionaires or billionaires.  Many see wealth as a pathway to freedom without realizing the chains that wealth forges for them.  The following refrain that Porgy sings in Porky and Bess sums this up very well:

De folks wid plenty o’ plenty

Got a lock an dey door

‘Fraid somebody’s a-goin’ to rob ’em

While dey’s out a-makin’ more

What for?

Porgy had the sun and the moon and the deep blue sea and that was plenty of nuttin for Porgy.  Porgy exemplified the wisdom that is at the core of Ecclesiastes.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream Speech”:

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The only other speech that comes close to this one is Dr. King’s famous Eulogy speech.  The passion, cadence, rhyming, metaphors and ideology embodied in his “I have a Dream Speech” is matched by no other that I can think of.  Even more remarkable is that a large portion of this speech was impromptu.  Dr. King did not write all of this speech before he gave it.  Someone mentioned that he should tell them about his dream and he then went into the most memorable part of his speech.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Dr. King goes on to describe many more parts of his dream.  Each one is spellbinding in that they speak to the possibilities that one day racism may no longer darken the doorsteps of American life.  I never get tired of hearing this speech because it embodies the hope that we can all live together some day as brothers and sisters and not race haters.

Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount”:

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Jesus was a revolutionary and a radical.  He died for his beliefs that righteousness and justice and mercy and peace should not be tied to status and power.  In each of the eight beatitudes that he gave on the mount is the idea that you cannot buy your way into heaven.  We will be judged on the mercy and compassion that we show to others and not on how big our house is or how many diplomas we have.  I often wonder why some Christians are so determined to plant the 10 Commandments on public lawns, but I have yet to find one that wants to plant even one of the following eight beatitudes:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
  • Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
  • Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s “In a Grove”:        

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This story was the basis for the film Rashomon by the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.  It demonstrates what is perhaps one of the most important and often most ignored of all psychological concepts.  What we have increasingly realized is that different people see things very differently.  The idea that absolute facts exist beyond the minds of human beings is put into question by what has been called the Rashomon Effect.  Seeing is not always believing and sometimes believing is seeing.

The validity and reliability of eyewitnesses is an example of the “Rashomon Effect.”  Clarence Darrow knew how unreliable eyewitnesses were and even said “There is nothing as unreliable as an eyewitness.”  In this story, a tale of rape and murder unfolds.  A perpetrator is captured and put on trial.  Each “eyewitness” tells a very different story in terms of what happened.  This is significant to the fate of the defendant since the difference between murder and self-defense is acquittal and the same judgment will apply to the difference between consensual sex and rape.

Death row has been populated with about 1 in 25 people who were judged guilty on the basis of an eyewitness or some “indisputable” piece of evidence that turned out not to be so indisputable.  (A study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined that at least 4% of people on death row were and are likely innocent.)  Since 1973, more than 165 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced have been exonerated. The next time you think you have the facts or are quite certain of something because of what you heard or saw, you should think twice.

I hope you have enjoyed or at least found my list of favorite writings interesting.  I will follow up with Part 3 which will deal with my four favorite “Ideas.”  Until then, try singing the following song when you are feeling down or unhappy and substitute your “favorite things.”

“My Favorite Things” by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Raindrops on roses

And whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things

 

Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels

Doorbells and sleigh bells

And schnitzel with noodles

Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings

These are a few of my favorite things

 

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes

Silver-white winters that melt into springs

These are a few of my favorite things

 

When the dog bites

When the bee stings

When I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don’t feel so bad.

The Fox and the Rabbit

Growing up, I always loved the Uncle Remus stories and the Aesop fables.  The following story melds elements of both authors.  If you have never read tales from either source, you are missing one of the great treasure troves of morals ever written.  Here is my contribution to the genre of fables with a moral. 

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It was shortly after the race between Mr. Rabbit and the Mr. Tortoise.  Everyone was still talking about how Mr. Tortoise had beaten Mr. Rabbit.  The unthinkable had happened.  How could the slowest moving creature in the forest beat one of the speediest forest creatures?  Of course, the entire episode was an example of how pride and hubris could be the downfall of anyone.  Mr. Rabbit was so certain that he could beat the tortoise that he played the fool and lost the race.  However, Mr. Rabbit assured everyone that he was too smart to ever let this happen again.

The wise old fox was getting long in tooth and short in speed.  Years ago, he would have had a chance to catch a rabbit for dinner but those times were mostly history now.  Instead, Mr. Fox knew that he must rely on stealth and not speed.  Only by using his wit and cunning could he avoid starvation in old age.

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Now Mr. Fox had observed the race between the rabbit and the tortoise.  He had observed the strutting and pompousness of Mr. Rabbit.  He has also heard Mr. Rabbit assure everyone that such a situation would never happen again.  Mr. Fox had another idea though and he thought “This might just be the opportunity that I am waiting for.  I think that leopards rarely change their spots and I will test my theory on Mr. Rabbit.”

A few weeks went by and one day Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox were crossing intersecting trails when Mr. Fox spied Mr. Rabbit and decided to put his plan into action.  He yelled to Mr. Rabbit “Can you wait just a minute, I have a challenge for you?”  Mr. Rabbit, always very competitive and certain that Mr. Fox was nowhere close enough to grab him answered back “What kind of a challenge Mr. Fox?”

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“I want to challenge you to a race just like the one you had with Mr. Tortoise”, replied Mr. Fox.  Now Mr. Rabbit knew that Mr. Fox was very cunning but he also knew that Mr. Fox had grown old and slow.  He decided to play out the game because he was curious to see what Mr. Fox was up to.  “What’s in it for me if I beat you” said Mr. Rabbit, confident that there was no way Mr. Fox could beat him.  “Well, said Mr. Fox, if you win I will bring you a bushel full of carrots to eat.  If I win, you will bring me a bushel full of wheat.”  Mr. Fox, did not really care for wheat but he needed to show that he thought he just might win.

Mr. Rabbit, still suspicious of a trick answered “Well, I am agreeable to the race but on one condition.  If I win, you must deliver the carrots to me at a place and time that I will specify.”  Surely, he thought, there will be no chance for Mr. Fox to grab me if I have him deliver the carrots to my warren.  Mr. Fox was agreeable to the terms for truth be told, the situation was working out just as he had hoped it would.

Mr. Rabbit assumed that Mr. Fox would try to somehow grab him during the race and he was not going to let this happen.  No sleeping or napping during this race.  He would move so fast that he would blow the pants off Mr. Fox.  The word went out through the forest that Mr. Rabbit was going to be in another race.  His opponent this time would be Mr. Fox.  The entire forest was abuzz with anticipation.  All knew that for many years, Mr. Fox had tried to catch Mr. Rabbit but with no results.  What was he up to, was the thought on everyone’s mind,

The day of the race came.  Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox took their respective places.  Mr. Rabbit made sure he was nowhere close to Mr. Fox at the starting line.  Hundreds of forest creatures had arrived to watch the big race.  Mr. Owl blew the starting whistle and off they went.  Over hill, over dale, through the thickest parts of the forest ran Mr. Fox and Mr. Rabbit.  However, Mr. Fox was clearly outmatched.  Mr. Rabbit was hundreds of yards ahead.  He had such a lead that he could not even see Mr. Fox.  He thought to himself “Mr. Fox thinks I am going to take a nap and catch me, but he is too stupid for me, I will keep going until I reach the finish line.”  Minutes later, Mr. Rabbit crossed the finish line and Mr. Fox was nowhere in sight.  Mr. Rabbit jumped up and down and shouted things like “Stupid old fox, thought he could catch me.”  “Mr. Fox has gotten senile in his old age if he thinks that he can outsmart me.”

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Mr. Fox finally crossed the finish line many minutes later than Mr. Rabbit.  Mr. Rabbit had grown tired of waiting and he left a note for Mr. Fox with Mr. Owl.  “Please give this note to Mr. Fox from me” he asked, “It has directions for when and where he should bring the carrots that he owes me.”  Mr. Fox took the note and went home.

A week or so passed and Mr. Fox had collected all the carrots that would fit into a bushel basket.  He also collected a few more that he was going to put into a gunny sack.  He put a note on the bushel basket that he had picked more carrots than required by the bet but he was going to donate them to Mr. Rabbit anyway.  Furthermore, he left the sack to make it easier for Mr. Rabbit to get his carrots home.

Mr. Rabbit thought “My, my, I guess Mr. Fox knows who is the better runner now.  That stupid fox will think twice before he challenges me again.”  Mr. Rabbit grabbed a carrot and promptly ate it.  After eating a few more carrots, he decided it was time to get them back home.  It would not do to be out after dark.

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Mr. Rabbit managed to carry the basket home and then came back for the sack.  Letting his guard down, Mr. Rabbit did not notice that Mr. Fox had snuck back to the site where the sack was and climbed inside it.  Mr. Rabbit grabbed the sack and tried to throw it over his shoulder but it was too heavy.  “What is in this sack?” thought Mr. Rabbit.  He opened it to peer inside and before you could say “Jack Rabbit,” Mr. Fox had Mr. Rabbit in his jaws.  Sad to say, that was the end of Mr. Rabbit.

Now, any good story must have a moral and that goes double for stories with an unhappy ending.  I have tried to find a fitting moral to this tale.  There are perhaps several morals that might fit.

  • Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
  • Pride goes before a fall.
  • The leopard does not change its spots.
  • Always keep your enemies in sight.
  • Long-term thinking will always win out over short-term thinking.

Mr. Fox was not sure which of these morals he had followed.  He only knew that rabbit was a mighty tasty morsel when served cold.

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Time for Questions:

What moral do you find in this story?  Why?  What would you have put for an ending? Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.” — Thomas Aquinas
 

 

What the Hell Do We Need Morality For?

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This blog is about the subject of morality.  Once upon a time, they taught morality in school and in church.   The first system of morality that many older Americans were exposed to was probably the “Ten Commandments.”   This was a code of rules given to the Israelites by Moses on Mount Sinai.  I have always thought it ironic that a set of morals from the “Old Testament” was supposed to be the foundation for a Christian America.  Even today, advocates of this code of morality want to hang it in town halls, schools, courts and government centers.  This is a part of the Bible that promoted an “eye for an eye” and stoning adulterers.

Jesus did say “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus added at least one commandment to all others that was even more valuable than the ten TenCommandmentsMoses gave.   Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John: 13:34).  I would be much more in favor of seeing this posted in my neighborhood than the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps even more importantly in terms of a system of morality, Jesus gave a sermon where he proposed what has been called:  The Eight Beatitudes:   (Click here to hear the The Beatitudes Song

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  —- Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

It is my opinion that the Eight Beatitudes constitute one of the greatest systems of morality to come out of the Bible.  I would rather see these taught (if we are going to teach a system of morality) than the Ten Commandments.  I would also not mind these being posted in schools and other public places whereas I am sick and tired of those who want to post the Ten Commandments.

I noted that once upon a time, we taught morality in schools and churches.   Actually, we not only taught morality but morality was also imbued in our social fabric by many traditional stories and the media.  Children from an early age were exposed to Fairy tales, Uncle Remus stories, Aesop Fables, and Tales of the Arabian Nights.  These stories were full of morals on how to live and behave properly.  Early TV was also full of morality tales.  Shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith each week clearly conveyed stories of morality and what was right and what was not right in terms of behavior.

sin-guilt-causes-body-pain-sicknessSomeplace along the way, we started losing our sense of morality.  Some have blamed it on becoming a multi-cultural environment.  Some have blamed it on the decline of religion and church going.  Some have blamed education while still others have blamed progress and a business culture that has no room for strict morality.  I am not sure what the actual cause was.  I am more concerned that it did happen.  Studies have shown that our culture has become more amoral than moral and that narcissism now plays an increasing role in our society.  People are less moral and more self-centered than ever before in the history of this country.  A book by Joel Marks (Ethics without Morals: In Defense of Amorality -Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory, 2012) is one of several that makes an argument for amorality:

“In clear, plainspoken, engaging prose, Joel Marks presents the case for abandoning belief in morality. Anyone who wants to defend the practice of making moral judgments will have to confront the issues Marks raises, and the alternative to morality he proposes.” – Mitchell Silver, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA 

In the book “The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality (2009)” the author Hans-George Moeller advances the following case for amorality:

“Justice, equality, and righteousness—these are some of our greatest moral convictions. Yet in times of social conflict, morals can become rigid, making religious war, ethnic cleansing, and political purges possible.  Morality, therefore, can be viewed as a pathology—a rhetorical, psychological, and social tool that is used and abused like a weapon.”

In an article “Why Is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans?”  by Peter Gray in Freedom to Learn (2014), Gray notes the following:

“For the past three decades or a little more, researchers have been assessing both narcissism and empathy using questionnaires developed in the late 1970s.  Many research studies have shown that scores on these questionnaires correlate reliably with real-world behavior and with other people’s ratings of the individuals.  For example, those who score high in narcissism have been found to overrate their own abilities, to lash out angrily in response to criticism, and to commit white-collar crimes at higher rates than the general population.[1]  Those who score low in empathy are more likely than the average person to engage in bullying and less likely to volunteer to help people in need.[2.]

Over the years, these questionnaires have been administered to many samples of college students, and analyses that bring all of the data together reveal that the average narcissism score has been steadily increasing and the average empathy score has been steadily decreasing ever since the questionnaires were developed [3.]  The changes are highly significant statistically and sufficiently large that approximately 70 percent of students today score higher on narcissism and lower on empathy than did the average student thirty years ago.

What accounts for this historical rise in narcissism and decline in empathy?  There is no way to know for sure, based on the data, but there are lots of grounds for speculation.”

I think we have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  I agree we need to keep the State separate from the Church.  I also agree that we don’t need the Ten Commandments as the foundation for moral thought in America.  Nevertheless, I do believe that we all need a code of morality to live by.  Whether it be Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Agnostic, Atheist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, or other, we need a set of morals as a template and foundation for our behavior.  We need a baseline that each of us can start from so that we can assess what is good and what is right.  We need to have some system of ideas about what is correct behavior and how we should live in a socially interconnected world.

When I was a kid, (somewhere along the way) I was taught the Seven Deadly Sins.  Sometimes they were called the Seven Deadly Vices or the Seven Cardinal Sins.  I assume that since I attended a Catholic school, it went along with the teaching.  The Seven Deadly Sins included the following:

  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride

7 deadly sins

Some of you might think that this list is old fashioned or out of date.  How could this set of implicit moral values make a difference in our society?  They are so old; do they really have any relevance anymore?

Take a close look around you at the world.  You have only to look for a few minutes to persuade yourself that these “sins” are at the top of the list of major problems.  Greed, envy, gluttony and lust appear pervasive in our culture.  (See my series on Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins) TV shows, movies, magazines, radio, supermarkets, superstars, sports, credit services, escort services, pornography, Las Vegas all portray an American brand of materialism that is nothing short of sick.  Get it now, get it fast, and get more and moreMore is better!  Bigger is better!  Shop till you drop!  He who has the most toys wins!

“If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely greed must be the father. Children of this odd couple are named: Laziness, Envy, Greed, Jr., Gluttony, Lust, Anger and Pride.”  ― John R Dallas  Jr.

Black Friday ( The day after Thanksgiving in the USA) is only a small manifestation of the greed, lust and sloth that has infected our society.  How many Americans have a regular exercise schedule?  How many obese citizens can you count on the street each day?  How many Americans spend more each week then they earn?  How many Americans will go in debt this Holiday Season to spend money that they don’t have on gifts and toys?  Where is the self-restraint that is necessary to push oneself away from the table or shut the TV off and say “Enough.”  It barely seems to exist.  Is it any wonder that so many countries have a very negative stereotype of the “average” American?  We appear to be a group of people who have lost our moral compass.

ARTICLE 29 —  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • You have a responsibility to the place you live and the people around you-we all do. Only by watching out for each other can we each become our individual best.

At this point, you well may be asking “What right does he have to be so damn moralistic?”  Didn’t Jesus say “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”  “Are you so perfect that you have a right to look down on other people?”  “Who does he think he is, Jonathan Edwards?”  “I don’t need anyone telling me my faults.”  “I get enough negativity from work without having to get it from you.”

Please allow me to clarify a few misconceptions.  In some religious circles we are all sinners.  Since I am agnostic, I don’t subscribe to a religious view of sin.  My use of the terminology is borrowed from the religious sphere since I think that the concept of sin has a very useful connotation if we can free it from some of the pejorative and negative associations with which it is fettered.  First of all, I do not believe that you will go to hell for committing these Seven Sins.  Second, you will not be a bad or evil person because of them.  Third and accentuating the positive, you may be happier and healthier if you are more aware of these “sins” and can do a better job of examining the role that they play in your life.  My bringing these “sins” out is to help us all become more aware of the morality that we have allowed to become obscured in our daily lives.

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.  —-Buddha

We have had a decline in morality that started over one hundred years ago and it still seems to be declining.  More people are worried about their taxes increasing then the poverty facing many people in this country.  More people are worried about their security then the number of people going to jail every day for victimless crimes.  More people are worried about the price of gasoline then the pollution we send into the atmosphere every day.  Self-centeredness has become a dominant fixture of the American landscape.  “Greed is Good” says Ivan Boesky and everyone applauds.

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.   — C. S. Lewis

Why do I think we should care about morality? 

goodevilWithout morality, we are not even as good as animals.  Animals eat, drink, sleep, procreate and fight when they have to.  They do not do it simply to hurt other animals or to wage war against groups or individuals that they cannot tolerate.  Animals care for their young and exhibit many characteristics of moral behavior.  In captivity, animals may display much more aggressive behavior.  For instance, Orcas in the wild have never been observed to kill other Orcas.  This is not the case for Orcas in captivity.  There is no such thing as civilization without a commitment to moral and ethical behavior.  Even animal societies are proof of this.

“I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt; I am lean with seeing others eat – O that there would come a famine through all the world, that all might die, and I live alone; then thou should’st see how fat I would be! But must thou sit and I stand? Come down, with a vengeance!”  ― Christopher MarloweDoctor Faustus

Without morality, we have no compass to define what is good behavior and what is bad behavior.  We are reduced to the level of opportunists willing to take advantage of anyone and anything that suits our ends.  Listen to the current debate on the use of torture and the recent CIA report and you will find numerous “experts” advocating that the “ends justify the means.”  One man on NPR noted that he thought we should ask the victims of the Twin Trade Towers what they thought about the use of torture to capture Osama Bin Laden.   John McCain (May he Rest in Peace) once said it best when he opined in Congress (12-9-14) that “”Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”  Nevertheless, he was opposed by his own party in his opposition to torture and in fact to even releasing the CIA Tortmoralityure Report. 

Many Republicans argued against releasing the report, especially as the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria grew and U.S. intelligence officials had warned that its release could cause backlash from nations and groups hostile towards the nation.   American embassies in the Middle East had been put on heightened security alert for its release.

McCain replied that “This report strengthens self-government and, ultimately, I believe, America’s security and stature in the world.”  (CNN 12-9-14)

Finally, without morality, there is no way to transmit values from one generation to another.  A lack of morality has led to the increase in amorality that is now symptomatic of our society.  Amorality is a set of beliefs which deny the value of morality or at best are indifferent to morality.  A rock is amoral.  It is neither good (moral) or bad (immoral) but may be used for either purpose.  Anything or anyone without a conscience is amoral.  It is a fine line and one that is very easy to trespass between amoral and immoral.  Many people today may think their behaviors are amoral when actually they could better be described as immoral.  Harken back to the Seven Deadly Sins and ask yourself, how many of these vices are amoral?  Are greed, gluttony, lust and wrath amoral?   Can anyone with a good conscience say it is okay to partake in these vices?

“Seven deadly sins,
seven ways to win,
seven holy paths to hell,
and your trip begins

Seven downward slopes
seven bloodied hopes
seven are your burning fires,
seven your desires…”
― Iron Maiden

Time for Questions:

What is your moral code? What are the three most important morals in your life?  Do you think everyone should have an explicit moral code?  Why or why not?  Do you know many amoral people?  What do you think about amorality?  When is it justified?  What do you think the world would be like if everyone was amoral?  Would it be a better world or worse? Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always”  ― Dante Alighieri

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