Posts Tagged 'ethics'

Love and Respect


What are we supposed to do in life? Make babies? Be good?

Two of life’s most fundamental pursuits, apart from self-preservation, are to earn love and respect. Nobody ever told me this. Not religion, not school, not mom or dad.

It aint easy.

Love is often given to us, but the path to earning it can be elusive. Respect is just as complicated, though it may be a little less subjective. It starts, of course, by loving and respecting ourselves.

That’s tricky. Most of us aren’t as happy with ourselves as we often pretend. Self respect and love in ourselves is a lifelong pursuit. We never fully arrive, in part because we, more than anyone else, see our imperfections up close. So we seek the love and respect of others as validation — a kind of Catch-22.

Being good is a start. However, defining what ‘good‘ is can be awfully difficult when circumstances get complicated. You might be able to use as a guide what gives you love and respect from the people you care most about. But that’s a trap if you’re trying too hard to please them. They have their own agendas.

An artist trying to write a hit song will rarely succeed. An artist writing from the heart can catch the magic, and it just comes. Organic and pure, like good art.

This is why people say to follow your heart. So much stuff out there trying to dissuade us from that, but in my 53 years on this earth I can safely say that the ones who follow their hearts in general tend to be happier than the ones who try to follow the rules. It’s not an absolute, but the correlation is clear. And with that happiness comes love reflected back, because this is a person living true to and being honest with themselves. Just as imperfect as anyone else, but more accepting of what is, and more open to being in the moment and not clinging to things that no longer work.

Like a great song, it often seems to come to you when you aren’t looking for it.


The Marketing Drug


Every time I see my dentist he tries to sell me stuff. Various services they provide that will in some way (they claim) improve my life by addressing some shortcoming or concern taking place in my mouth. I never knew my mouth had so many problems!

I’m all for selling people on things that can help them take care, even if they are merely for pleasure or aesthetics (vanity), but like everything else, there can be a tipping point where we sometimes take it too far, or are too manipulative.

It reminds me of how food is marketed. The marketing has become so powerful that some of the people being hurt actually are eager for it to continue. This creates a cultural feedback loop, where some aspire to have these respected marketing jobs, to do more marketing of similar items. It creates a society where the owners and leaders of these companies are celebrated as risk-taking, brave businesspeople, not as the modern robber barons that they’ve become.

The cultural feedback loop can’t be denied. The NAACP, which represents a population that is disproportionately impacted by the health costs these products create is actually allied with marketers in the fight to sell ever more and bigger portions to its constituents.

The crime continues because the money taken by corporations that change our culture is used to fund campaigns that conflate the essential concept of ‘freedom’ with the not-clearly-articulated ‘right’ to respond to marketing and consume stuff in quantities that would have been considered literally insane just three generations ago. And we like it.

[I’ll write the previous paragraph’s point again here to be clear: we’ve decided that consumers ought to have the right be manipulated by marketers. So manipulated that we sacrifice our long-term health in the face of its power.]

We ban accounting that misleads, and we don’t let engineers build bridges that endanger travelers. We monitor effluent for chemicals that can kill us as well. There’s no reason in the world that market-share-fueled marketing ought to be celebrated merely because we enjoy the short-term effects it creates in the moment. Every profession we respect has limits created and enforced by society. These rules make it more likely we don’t race to the bottom as we cut those corners or maximize our profits.

The question is this: are you responsible for the power in your hands? If so, then we need to own the results of our work. If not, someone else needs to step in before it’s too late. No sustainable system can grant power without responsibility.

Just because marketing works doesn’t mean we have an obligation to do it. And if we’re too greedy to stop on our own, then yes, we should be stopped.

And don’t even get me started on the marketing of drugs. The pharmaceutical complex is as out of control as anything humanity has ever witnessed. It’s capitalism, and the battle is to win. At all costs.


Who Got Harmed


Life would be better and easier if we didn’t harm each other. We may or may not mean to inflict some pain or consequences on someone else, and we may or may not even derive some joy or satisfaction out of it in the moment, but in the end – the long run – we have hurt ourselves, even though it’s often not apparent right away. Payback doesn’t work. It just does more damage.

Best to live and let live. Wherever you can muster the internal fortitude to carry on and do your own thing, the better. It’s not in our nature sometimes, but enlightenment may require rising above our nature.

Diffusion of Blame

finger-pointingx4We find it handy in our culture to be able to ascribe blame for things we don’t like. Consequently we often tend to oversimplify problems. The righteous indignation from those who feel they are on some obvious moral high ground can be palpable.

People do need to be accountable for their actions, but it’s often not so simple as it can appear.

Example: Slave labor in clothing manufacturing.

How do you assign blame for the practice of human beings enslaving other human beings to produce cheap clothing? Do you blame the kidnappers who captured the slaves? Do you blame the smugglers who trafficked them? Do you blame the staffing personnel who bought and hired them? Do you blame the foremen who makes the working conditions harsh? Do you blame the executives who made the policies? Do you blame the investors who financed the factory? Do you blame the brand who sources the clothing from such factories? Do you blame the retailers who carried the brands? Do you blame the consumers who purchased the products?

The truth is that without any one link in the chain the shackles would fall to the ground. However, each link can rationalize that their own little sin isn’t all that bad, or that their hands were tied without reasonably viable options, and that if they weren’t there someone else would come and take their place.

After all, the consumer doesn’t generally feel involved with how brands produce their products. The brands are just trying to give the customers what they want at the right price. In order to do that, they’re willing to make a few sourcing compromises, or simply “can’t” (don’t) afford the time to understand the details of the whole chain. The factories realize that if they’re not doing everything they can to cut costs, they’re going to lose the bid. The foremen believe that if they don’t keep their workers in fear they don’t get the output that they have to have in order to avoid repercussions on themselves. The staffing realizes that if they outspend their competition they’re not going to exist anymore, so they make a compromise and acquire slaves. The traffickers, after all, never kidnapped anyone, they’re just getting them where the slave trader wanted them to go. And the kidnappers themselves? It’s just too lucrative, “if I didn’t do it, someone else would,” then the moral atrocity still takes place and someone else gets paid besides me.

Everyone can sleep at night within their scope of relative sin. Who do you really blame, and what actions must be taken to stop it? Are the people and organizations who might be able to stop it to blame? Government? Usually something eventually happens when a light is shone on something bad, but cockroaches are good at slithering into the shadows and carrying on.

Do you think your life is devoid of these compromises (sins)? We’re a consumption oriented society. Look around your house. Look around your place of work. Really look, and think about where stuff comes from and goes. What business are you in? It’s probably not pure. No, we are all guilty. It’s not black and white at all. We can throw stones at them, but we best be ready to duck a few as well.

Black & White


What issues or concerns are truly black and white? Of those, which ones do we actually treat as such? Some people tell me many things are cut and dried, and we humans mess it up by introducing our own gray areas through weakness and a lack of morality, not to mention basic subjectivity. That may be true, but I am hard pressed to find anything so cut and dried that upon careful examination doesn’t need some room for a medium shade according to context and circumstances. Commonly the black and white crowd (at least the ones I know) are conservative Christians, or at least look to that set of beliefs as their guidance in life. Let’s look at an example.

  • Conservative Christian doctrine posits that marriage is the requirement for ethical sex.
  • Progressives tend to believe that consent is a required element. But they don’t hold that it is always sufficient.

When pushed on the issue, conservatives struggle with the stance that consent is vital and is considered required by progressives. They feel it ignores or at least de-emphasizes the marriage aspect they feel is so important. This highlights one of the faults of the black and white thinking, as much of the world ends up being viewed through that type of binary prism. To conservatives marriage is the key component, and because of the black/white, right/wrong mindset it is often considered sufficient when pushed in the context of doctrine.

Many others struggle with the conservative Christian views in part because they don’t necessarily treat consent as a vital component. Conservatives don’t always recognize a major difference between any type of sexual act that falls outside of the basic criteria of marriage. All those acts are deemed wrong, and to some they are equally so. Adultery is in some ways not different from raping a child. If the issue is black and white then there is by definition no room for any moderation or qualification.

But it’s more than just that. Conservatives often do not agree with the progressive’s consent criteria because the default understanding through doctrine is that there is only the one simple black and white choice. Since conservative doctrine bases it all on marriage then they incorrectly may assume that the consent camp bases it all on consent. The black and white thinking produces a lack of understanding of the nuance that there are multiple criteria, each of which is important, but maybe not equally important, which means there can be a range of how bad of an offense it is to falter. Progressives may hold consent AND marriage as important, but with the greater focus on consent the misunderstandings are exacerbated.

The notion that things are black and white stems in part from the pressure that the text mustn’t be questioned. The rules are laid out, if unclearly at times, and faith promotes a semi-blind following of them that contributes to the fundamental chasm of mindsets and ways to interpret things.

Now at most practical levels I’m aware of in the conservative Christian community (people I know) something like child molestation isn’t seriously considered to be the same as adultery (although a sin is a sin, no?). They seem willing to allow some room for interpretation. Adultery between consenting adults being wrong because it is outside of marriage. Raping a child being wrong because…(of something more?).

So Christians take a black and white doctrine and then apply certain interpretations to it, with the result being to make it less than absolutely black and white. And in some cases making it or allowing it to be uniquely personal. Is it up to the individual to believe in his/her interpretation of the bible, or should he/she follow the letter of the law? How much grace or deviation is allowable? How much comfort and forgiveness permissible? This gives rise to so many subtly different and potentially incongruent beliefs based on all of the interpretations that it seems almost laughable to me that one would cling tightly to any absolute bad/good, right/wrong view of the world. And yet a black and white attitude is often taken after having applied the very judgement, context, and often some personal perceptions to it that render it no longer absolute, if it ever was.

This is just one of the ways religion, as it is commonly practiced in our culture, fails us.

Definitely not saying anything goes here (that would be another kind of black and white). Best to acknowledge that it’s all shades of gray, and you’re just trying to figure out which shades you want to believe and live by. Don’t expect others to see it the same way, considering they weren’t part of the same programming you experienced.

Finally…because of the potentially volatile nature of a post like this I feel I should make it clear to any conservative Christian acquaintances of mine that I am not poo-pooing their beliefs or way of life, or even their thinking. I grew up in church and know the story. I have written about things like this before. I advocate tolerance and open mindedness, allowing room that we’re all flawed, and none of us lives in a house so rigid we can’t be wrong. Feel free to read back through this blog and you will see that there are other views presented from time to time. Because I don’t have it all figured out either.

When Character Battles Reputation

We believe good character leads you do doing what is right. It does not mean you don’t make mistakes, do things that are wrong, or even harmful. What it means is that in the end you are able to navigate yourself to the best solution that takes care of your concerns.

Efforts by parents, teachers, and others to instill values are important, but ultimately, character is both formed and revealed by how one deals with everyday situations as well as extraordinary pressures and temptations. Like a well-made tower, character is built stone by stone, decision by decision.

Of course, our assessment of a person’s character is an opinion, and it isn’t always right. An assessment of one’s own character is still just an opinion.

Abraham Lincoln once made the analogy that character is like a tree, while reputation is like the shadow of the tree. The shape of the shadow is not a perfect image of the tree. It depends on the tree, but is affected by other things, not the least of which is the perspective of the observer. In the same way, reputation is not always an accurate reflection of character. Some people derive more benefit from their reputation than they deserve; others are better than their reputations.

Thus, an assessment of anyone’s character is ultimately just our own perception — a reflection of ourselves in a way. The assessment happens through the filters (biases) of whatever the we already believe about the way the world looks and works. We tend to notice and find things that support our beliefs. If you believe politicians are liars then you’re likely going to assess anything questionable as a lie. If you believe a person is of poor character you will probably find ways to validate that perception for yourself. Worse, you may treat them accordingly, which can sometimes negatively influence their behavior in a manner that further supports your belief.
Still, reputation matters. It determines how others think of us and treat us and whether we are held in high or low esteem.

We’ve often seen cases where an individual has manipulated facts to augment public perception of his character. Always shocking when the truth is revealed. Sometimes what gets revealed is just the tip of an even more disturbing iceberg. At other times someone of high character may be the victim of circumstances that make him look bad. Or maybe makes a mistake that appears more egregious than it really is if all of the details could be known.

To most of us both (character & reputation) are deeply personal and important, a big part of how we identify who we are. So when we find our character (reputation) called into question, or appearing to be compromised, we feel a need to defend ourselves. This can on occasion present a significant personal struggle because sometimes defending one’s reputation can also damage it. Things can get complicated. One of the more difficult situations in life is when one finds his character and reputation on opposite sides of an issue, in a dual with each other. Consider the following…
  • Suppose you are blamed for something that’s not your fault, but proving it will cause harm to someone else? Do you allow your reputation to be sullied and spare the other person?
  • A tricky set of circumstances conspire to foster a condition in which you appear to look bad. Defending yourself against a set of what appear to be facts (however incomplete they may be) can make you look worse. Do you push for the truth or let it go?
  • Suppose someone you trust and care about allows you to be thrown under the bus, or worse, throws you under the bus, out of necessity. You can defend yourself, but it may produce negative consequences for your friend. Is the high character move to try to right that wrong in the spirit of the truth, or at least full disclosure of the facts? Or is it a position of higher character to spare your friend and allow your reputation to be compromised?
  • What if you are on the other side of it? Is the high(er) character move to allow your friend to be thrown under the bus in the interest of some greater good? Or should you fight for the truth to the end even at the risk of personal harm to yourself?
  • Or what if a friend finds herself in a tough spot where you have inside information that might help, but revealing the information causes other significant problems (not the least of which is damaging your reputation)? Do you forge ahead and take the consequences or stand by and let the situation sort itself out?
Morality, the very thing many people think character is based on, doesn’t help us here. Morality is black and white and often doesn’t do well informing these kinds of internal conflicts. Sure, you could say, “always go for the truth, no matter what.” But if the consequences of the truth are dire enough is that really still the right thing to do? These are tough ethical questions, which, depending on the details of the circumstances don’t have clear right or wrong answers. The “pure” way to look at it would be to ignore the relative consequences and just go for what is “right,” to the extent that it can even be determined, but the practical, and arguably higher character way to look at it considers those consequences and accepts the role of choosing the least wrong, or harmful course.
And thus we must live in that gray area where we try to take the best care of everything that’s important to us as best we can. Add to the mix one’s relative willingness to endure confrontation and discomfort (versus being polite and shrinking away) when necessary and it can become quite a test. It’s imperfect. Sometimes there is no good answer, and it is sometimes dreadfully painful.
Such is life. An ability and dedication to navigating complex and nuanced issues such as these is ultimately where your character lies. Just know that your reputation may not be able to follow you there.


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