Almost every individual – excluding perhaps those insane persons who have no sense of right and wrong, but certainly including everyone from religious leaders to gangsters and serial killers – has a set of ethics.
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Each person draws portions, sometimes bits and pieces, of their personal … ethics from an almost random variety of sources, such as their childhood upbringing, a dramatic or otherwise pivotal life experience, religious beliefs, discussions with family, colleagues, and friends, and the ethical teachings of whatever philosophers [they] may have read.
I’ve written a number of times before about ethics and morals (see for example here and here). But stimulated by a conversation with one of my friends (yes, somehow I do still have one or two!) some days ago I’ve been moved to return to the subject at a more personal, rather than philosophical, level.
What follows is a summary of some of those “bits and pieces” I’ve garnered over the years as my personal ethics and morals. These are the things which I try to live by.
- Causality. Things are as they are for a reason which is seldom disclosed to us. There are more things in heaven and earth than we can ever know or understand.
- Respect People. Always treat others as you would wish them to treat you – with respect, dignity, kindness, equality, compassion and integrity. Essentially this is the old adage: do as you would be done by. Or in the words of Matthew 7:12, Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Or to spin it the other way: if it harm none, do as you will. If you can do this one thing, all the rest pretty much follow.
- Respect Nature. We are but a small part of this Earth. It is not ours, it was here long before us and it should be here long after us. We are merely it’s current custodians and as such we should behave as ethically towards the Earth, Nature and all living creatures as we should to other human beings. Do not rape our natural resources or screw the environment. That doesn’t mean being vegetarian, living off-grid or the like – after all eating plants and felling trees can be considered murder just as much as eating animals – but it does mean respecting what you do eat (we almost always raise a glass to the animal we’re eating), recycling as much as possible, and not consuming for the sake of it. Do not play god; there is no reason to suppose we know better than Mother Nature.
- Be Honest. Be open, honest and truthful in all things and at all times. Open government and fair dealing. Admit it when you don’t know; don’t guess.
- Respect Relationships. Never do anything to unhook or put in jeopardy anyone else’s relationship. This is something I formulated for myself as a teenager: that I would never do anything to harm or unhook another relationship. It didn’t matter how much I fancied the girl (and for me it always has been girls) in question, nor how strongly or loosely committed the relationship; if there was a relationship the parties were strictly off-limits as anything more than friends. It just seemed to me to be ethical, kind and respectful not to meddle while the relationship existed. (This is one reason Noreen and I knew each other for several years before we started dating.) I have continued to live by this, not just as student on the pull, but as an adult where others might have seen/wanted an opportunity for adultery.
- Freedom of Speech. Be liberal and relaxed in dealing with other people’s views and beliefs. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and is entitled to express those opinions even if I don’t like it. I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death, your right to hold and express your opinion. To do otherwise is but a short step to censorship.
- Beliefs. Each of us is entitled to believe whatever we like. Just don’t expect anyone else to share your beliefs. It’s not what you believe that’s the problem, but what you think I should believe.
- Use Your Abilities. Do everything to the best of your ability.
- Don’t Judge. Don’t be judgemental: you can never know how someone else feels inside, what motivates them, nor how their relationship works, so don’t assume or judge.
- No Revenge. Don’t hold grudges or be vengeful – be compassionate and forgiving; understand the other person’s position and move on. It’s OK to be angry; it’s never OK to be cruel.
- Admit Errors. If you’re wrong, be strong enough to admit it, apologise and if possible do something to remediate the error. Never blame others for your failings.
- Never Regret. Do not regret anything which has happened, even if you now know it was not the best thing to do. If it’s good, that’s great. If it isn’t, it’s experience to learn from and move on. We all do things that with hindsight we wish we hadn’t; but they cannot be undone and rarely properly repaired. Regret is unhelpful and destructive.
- Be Responsible. You are responsible for what you do, say and think; accept that responsibility. However you are not responsible for other people’s emotions, beliefs, actions and reactions; nor they for yours.
That’s the high level stuff and I feel sure I’ve left something out. I can’t think any of it is very startling, but it is interesting to put it all together – something I’ve never done in quite this way before – as it really does make one consider whether the whole is self-consistent. Of course, I’ve not yet made any attempt to integrate this with my core constructs (such as I know them).
And below all that are my personal beliefs, like the legalisation of sex work and marijuana; nudity and body acceptance; the scientific method; the absence of deities; etc.
Heavy stuff. I need a gin & tonic.