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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Personal Ethics

Course Correction

Re-examine all that you have been told...dismiss that which insults your soul.”
Walt Whitman

I was once friends with two women who were nuns in a Catholic monastery in Louisiana. Theirs was an educational order, so they both taught elementary school. They lived at the convent, and one of them was even the mother superior. When desegregation became the law of the land in the 1960's, their school, a Catholic institution, refused to integrate. The result of that decision was that two very devoted sisters of the faith left. They not only left their order, they left the church, and their way of life behind.

These days, there is a great deal of talk about ethics. Most of us think of ethics as a set of standards imposed by a particular profession, or by the larger society, designed to protect members from harm and exploitation. And, they are, but there also exists personal ethics, individual and unique. Sometimes those are learned from the larger culture, and sometimes they are strictly personal. They can be valuable, but not always. For instance, Dylann Roof, the young white man who shot to death nine African Americans in a Charleston Church, was acting on his personal ethics, and possibly those of his immediate culture. He stated that he had no remorse for his actions, that he would do it again, because in his heart of hearts, he believed he was right.

I have known people who took money and equipment from their employer because in their view, “they owe it to me.” In fact, that's the modus operandi of the embezzler—the belief that they are justified in stealing because it's owed to them. Their ethical evaluation allows them to take what is not theirs and feel good about it. We've had some fairly notorious cases of that—Bernie Madoff comes to mind.

There's not much a society can do when an individual's ethics are way off the charts except to protect others from them. But for the rest of us, a re-examination of our personal ethics is always in order. Being self-aware, being conscious enough to question our own motives, and course-correct when we find them to be out of bounds is the bedrock of civilized society. It only takes one Dylann Roof, or one Bernie Madoff, to create havoc. This is a good time to check our personal behavior, and choose not to do anything that insults our souls, or harms our brothers and sisters.

                                                           In the Spirit,

                                                               Jane

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