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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Our Lack of Morals Chains Us to a Negative Destiny

“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny.

"One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements.”

― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934    

It is actually frightening to realize our freedom involves personal responsibility. We cannot say, "We had no choice," and simply relieve ourselves from responsibility of everything we have done and have not done. Dealing with ever-increasing responsibility is vital to enacting needed change. George Bernard Shaw once said: “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”  

I am often amused at the comments of those with spirited ideas who simply embrace freedom and liberty without considering the requirement of active membership in a responsible society. Braying about their Constitutional rights and displaying symbols like flags, declarations, and historical characters, those who dwell on these things are superficial, and, quite frankly, limited to private thoughts and emotions not their own, but given to them by society.

"Bondage to the past" is dangerous and threatens important, needed change. As Nin says, we should, instead, look back and "dissect the elements" of the past in order to "alter the chemistry." Our future involves building a new character, one bettered by our examination of what has come before. We cannot be content with living like parasites -- merely existing upon the thinking of others.

Changing old practices is difficult. It requires great thought. Foremost, the consideration requires us to distinguish the difference between unavoidable mistakes that hamper human endeavors and serious violations that enslave us. Brave, open minds in search of the truth are capable of this exercise, and we who wish to learn must practice diligently to hone our skills of discernment.

Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged, stated ...

“Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience.

"But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul. Make every allowance for errors of knowledge; do not forgive or accept any break of morality.”
 
To err is human is the old saying. Yet, while both ethics and morals involve "right" and "wrong" conduct, they are different principles. Ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, such as codes of conduct in our workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong.

Here is an example of a clashes between ethics and morals at the workplace where company ethics can play against personal morality. Corporate greed that blurs its own ethical lines coupled with unreasonable demands on time can lead us to choose between a stressful, demanding and consuming work ethic and family obligations seen as moral obligations to spouse and children. Conversely, we could lose our jobs because of poor personal morals, employee theft being a common reason for dismissal.

So, our ethical considerations stem from concerns to an external social system while our moral considerations are those internal values that define our character. And, as ethics are dependent on others for definition and can vary between contexts, morals are usually consistent, although they can change if our beliefs change.

Morality transcends our cultural norms. Immanuel Kant said that moral judgments are binding on all human beings no matter what kind of society in which they live. Dr. Yitzchok Block, Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University and professor emeritus at The University of Western Ontario in London, Canada says ...  

"Many people are inclined to say that the only thing that can justify the categorical element of moral judgments is the fact that G-d commanded them. However, being commanded by G-d is not a necessary and sufficient condition for something being a categorical, moral judgment.

"What then is the justification of a moral judgment? This is a difficult question to answer, but I believe it is connected with the idea that we were made in the image of G-d, and therefore contain innate elements of natural goodness which is part and parcel of the soul and life of every human being, and is expressed in the two basic moral senses of justice and compassion."

(Dr. Yitzchok Block. "What is Morality?"  chabad.org)


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