I had a discussion recently regarding ethics and the choices that we make with one of my nieces who is currently attending college. The subject came up in relation to a recent political issue we were discussing – the perfect segue if you ask me. She is one of those incredibly hardworking (2 to 3 jobs) and focused individuals especially with respect to making money. I mentioned something along the lines of “If people would only care about others, the environment in which we live and do the right things, there would be fewer social problems to deal with in this world”. That was a bit of an idealistic statement I know but none-the-less true. She responded, “But there is no money in that way of thinking. Most people these days care about themselves, personal wealth and the things that they can have.” She went on to allude that I am somewhat archaic in my beliefs. Now I am one that generally dislikes getting upset but I found myself coming undone a bit by her statements. I then took a step back and started reflecting on what she said and society in general. Regardless of how I felt personally I understood that she was, to a large degree, correct.
I mean one would only have to watch your local and national newscasts to see that this is indeed a very self-centered and materialistic society in which we live. Think back to how many reports involving unethical behaviour by individuals, businesses and governments that have resulted in some major scandal. I am sure you don’t even have to sit in front of the idiot box to do that. Everyone of us have some issue or event in which we reference regarding the aforementioned.
An important point to consider then is “Why if given a choice to do something that would satisfy our own self-centered desires or support a common social good that we would choose the former the majority amount of the time?” Just think about that question for a moment and perhaps possible situations that you have found yourself in. I mean if you had come across a wallet or purse with a large amount of money in it and no form of identification, would you turn it in to the authorities or keep the money for yourself? Now add to that scenario that you are having difficulties of your own financially and could really use the money you found. Be honest in your assessment of your actions because that is the only way to clearly understand yourself and perhaps the nature of others. Would you immediately think to turn it in or would you pause and ponder exactly whether or not you should keep it? Would you try to use your own personal belief system, regardless of what that might be, and try to rationalise that you should keep it? For instance, I found this money in a time of need because a divine being planned for me to have it.
The question wasn’t one to put you on the spot to make you feel uncomfortable or guilty but to make you reflect honestly on yourself and the world we live in. There are many examples of unethical choices that have been made throughout the history of humankind and the disturbing way in which we tried to rationalise them. Just about every government scandal that comes to mind; the reasons for the wars we wage; the manner in which we harness our environmental resources and especially the way in which we interact with one another on micro and macro levels all provide poignant examples of our inability to make honest, unselfish choices. Is it any wonder that pessimism generally prevails regardless of where you live, what you do, the deity you believe in, your race, culture, gender, political affiliation and so on and so forth ad nauseam? We try to convince ourselves that things will magically get better or that a divine being will come and save us from the evil and disillusionment that seems to permeate every aspect of our lives. Or perhaps beings from another world, dimension, etc. will relate divine guidance and wisdom to us and alter the course of this downward spiral we seem to find ourselves on. Sidebar, isn’t that the reason hero films are so popular now? Because we need someone or something to save us from ourselves.
I believe that the truth to altering our current dark path is a bit more simplistic than that. It involves each and everyone one us reflecting upon ourselves and taking stock of the choices that we make. Yes, that’s right completing a stock-take. It requires us to be considerate, not just of our own needs and requirements but that of others – our family, friends, neighbors, and communities. We must challenge ourselves to understand that sacrificing certain aspects of our selfish desires strengthens the world around us thereby enabling us to form more cohesive communities and societies. We also must resist the negative influences and emotions both internal and external that may corrupt our thought processes and decision-making abilities. Blaming others, our communities, the organisations we find ourselves apart of; our government institutions and everything else is a very easy and passive thing to do. However, when all is said and done, the individual choices we make are the basis for our lives and the societies in which we reside. The personal responsibility we choose to accept or deny for the actions we have chosen to take becomes the foundation for what we will become.
Adiuva me verterem figuram mundi