I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about ethics and morality lately.
Tough subject. Especially for a minister in training. The theory is (and I happen to think it a pretty viable theory), that as a spiritual leader I will be called upon to not only exemplify good morals and ethics, but to help others do the same.
Wow. I’m feeling a bit….um…..not quite up to the task. But, I’m taking this class called Ethics in the Ministry and like all the other classes I’ve taken in Holmes Institute, this one is making me think, and allowing for profound inner changes.
I’ve learned that there is a distinction between morals and ethics. Morals are not, contrary to what I’ve always believed, something that society says I must or must not do or be. Nope. Morals are, instead, what is ok with me. Morals are what is right for me. Morals are my personal difference between right and wrong. My morals are mine. Yours are yours. So it behooves us to do that ancient and highly recommended spiritual practice called introspection to find out just what is ok with us, and why. Is it because that’s what our parents taught us, or because some piece of literature we’ve read tells us so, or is it because we are reacting to a deep seated fear, or is it really and truly what we believe?
One of the things I love about Centers for Spiritual Living is I am not told what to believe. Instead I am told how to figure out what I believe, and be ok with that. I believe in empowerment and personal responsibility, and what we teach fits in quite nicely with my beliefs.
And here is where the trouble starts, because ethics are what we do because of our morals. And when it comes to behavior, society has a lot to say about how we behave. So does the legal community.
Don’t get me started on legislation of personal stuff, like whether or not to wear a seat belt. I’m a dyed in the wool liberal, but I do not believe in legislation of my personal life, on any level.
My morals say that we should be free to take personal responsibility for our lives, and make decisions based on those morals. My ethics say that I will follow the law and put on my seat belt, but only under protest and only because some cute young cop will stop me and give me a ticket if I don’t. But if I think I can get away with it, I’m taking the damn thing off. That is the behavior behind what I believe. If I wanted to fight that battle I could get involved and work towards having the law changed.
But this is about bigger stuff.
We’ve been assigned two books to read for this class. One is by the Dalai Lama and is called “Ethics for a New Millennium.” Basically he says that in order to have good ethics we must be happy, and in order to be happy, we must have compassion. I need to think about the connection between compassion and ethics for a bit before I can articulate it. I also read in another book not related to the class, called “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown, that the most compassionate people are the ones with the best boundaries. And then, just last night, a very wise friend gave me another piece of the puzzle: when I set a boundary with someone, am I doing it in an attempt to control their behavior, or am I taking care of myself? Somewhere in there morals and ethics and compassion and happiness and boundaries are all linked.
And then we’ve been assigned another book, called “The Moral Imagination,” by Edward Tivnan. It tackles the subjects of abortion, suicide, euthanasia, capital punishment, racial justice and affirmative action. It presents, in an intellectual way, the arguments for and against each issue. I haven’t yet finished reading the book, but here’s what Tivnan says in his introduction: “…..the only way we can create a decent society out of so many versions of what Americans think is ‘decent’ is to understand why we disagree so strongly and learn to live with out disagreements…” He calls this moral imagination, hence the title.
I suspect I may be writing more about moral imagination once I’ve finished the book.
So I’m thinking about boundaries and compassion and ethics and morals along comes this post by a guy on Facebook. He has come out to the world as a gay person, and his post is heart felt and well written and profound. Here is his post: http://www.danoah.com/2012/11/anything-other-than-straight.html.
He talks about the mean cruel things people say in their ignorance and fear, and I identify. I’ve heard the comments. I just witnessed a major national election in which people came out in droves to say mean and hurtful things about all sorts of stuff.
It’s all very well and good to go into spiritual bypass and simply turn off the TV and not log into Facebook until the election is over.
But will that solve the problem?
Wouldn’t it be better to instead sit down and have a chat? A bunch of chats? Chats in which we acknowledge that we may never agree on an issue but let’s see if we can figure out a way to learn to live with them?
This, I think, is what I am being called upon to do as a minister in training. To first learn to chat in a loving way with someone about a subject upon which we disagree, and agree to disagree with mutual respect.
That is what I want for me personally, in my relationships with others, and that’s what I want for the world too. I’ll start with me, because I also believe what Ghandi says, that we must be the change we wish to see in the world.
This is not a post about what you believe. Instead it is a post about why you believe what you believe, and the behavior you do behind those beliefs. And about how we can chat in a loving way about the differences in our beliefs. We can start with seat belts if you like…keep it small and simple, and then maybe move on to bigger things. It’s a post to encourage you to examine your beliefs and discover if they hold true for you, or if they need to be changed, and why? And then to figure out a way to discuss those beliefs without belittling or shaming another human being.