Open to the Spirit
Today’s word: Ethics
smaller due to world travel? Or that our knowledge of one another and our natural world is increasing as sociology, biology, chemistry and all the other sciences advances our understanding?
As we grow in respect for one another and respect for our natural world, we rise to a higher level of ethical behaviour and we become more aware of our impact on one another. We cannot continue to bully, abuse and enslave our way across the planet in order to enrich and empower ourselves. Ethics can help us become better people. Let us hope it happens before we auto-destruct. number”. Something that emerged in the 60’s was “Situation Ethics”. It scared me a bit then, and even more so now. Lying, if it leads to personal benefits, seems to be acceptable now, and even expected.
I grew believing in honesty. I was also naive enough to believe most people operated by the same ethical principles. Something happened to me a number of years ago to make me realize this wasn’t so. We had a fire in the manse I was living in with my family. The roof was damaged, some parts of the interior, and of course the smoke left marks. We were insured, so we put together a list of the items that were damaged and submitted them to the insurance company. That’s when the difficulties came. Our adjustor challenged so many things we claimed were damaged, and wanted to reduce the amount the company owed by about half. We took pictures to show him but he was stubborn. Finally we went over his head to the company and received money for most of what we lost in the fire. People explained to us that this was how the system worked, because most claimants tried to cheat the insurance company by claiming much more than the real loss. Adjustors cut the claims in half and all worked out. The only problem, apparently, was the few people like me, who only submitted an honest claim.
I don’t want to live in a society where values have been abandoned. We need to hold our leaders accountable for lying and deceit. We also need to live our lives in integrity, and grow those values in the communities we live in. Ethics matter.
) According to tradition, the Torah gives us 613 mitzvot, 613 commandments that we must follow. Some of the laws are clear in their reasoning: don’t steal, return lost objects, don’t waste, along with those classics, honor your father and mother and don’t covet. You would think it would be enough of a life’s work to spend each day being focused on trying to do our best to follow every law. Each day we can check off our lists what we have done right and where we could work harder. Follow the laws, and we’re good!
But we know reality is not so easy. Each day we are confronted with challenges, with relationships and situations which simply don’t fit perfectly into any box. We can’t always look at a conversation or a difficult predicament, look it up in a book and do what we are told. We are instead told to follow also the words of Deuteronomy 6:18: “Do what is right and good in the eyes of God…” to use our judgment, and to train ourselves to live, walk and speak with compassion to the point that everything will come naturally. This is ethics at its best.
We can’t predict what each moment will bring. These few months have made that loud and clear. What we can know is that we have the resources, not just in the holy books, but in our own hearts to do what is right. Trust yourself, support each other and if we stay strong, all will work out in the end.
) When I was young my parents were very concerned with teaching us life lessons. We were encouraged to have good ethics, though that particular word wasn’t used. Honesty was important, as was service to others and unselfishness. I remember one day in Montreal when there was no one in the Metro booth to gave me change or a token so I jumped the barrier are made my trip. Later that day I went back to the same spot and tried to pay for my morning ride. The attendant was totally confused. She wasn’t used to such honesty. She didn’t understand why I wanted to give her money and not get a ticket. For me though, ethics were important.
My father was also passionate about politics and our responsibility to vote, perhaps because his grandfather was a member of Parliament in Ottawa for 10 years. We sometimes disagreed on issues and had vigorous dinner table discussions.
He made made a point of never telling us how he and Mom voted, once we were old enough to vote ourselves, so as not to influence our choice. Truth be told, we could usually figure his choice out. He was not so concerned with which political party a candidate represented, but he did care deeply about their character.
I’m sure if my father was watching the political landscape today, especially south of the border, he would be turning over in his grave. Lying, deceit, name calling and manipulation have become commonplace. Truth falls victim to “alternate facts”. Trustworthiness seems not to matter anymore. Braggadocio, pomposity and insults have won the day. A person’s integrity seems not to matter anymore. Perhaps it’s time to return to the days when honesty unselfishness, and service to others are everyday values. Ethics matter.
One word, four voices ~ and as always now it’s your turn: How do ethics play a part in your life decisions?
Rev. Mead Baldwin pastors the Waterville & North Hatley pastoral charge; Rabbi Boris Dolin leads the Dorshei-emet community in Montreal; Rev. Lee Ann Hogle ministers to the Ayer’s Cliff, Magog & Georgeville United Churches; Rev. Carole Martignacco, Unitarian Universalist is retired from ministry with Uuestrie and now resides in St. Andrews by-the-sea NB, but keeps one foot in the Townships by continuing with this column.