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Moral Landscape

01 Feb

A few weeks ago, my husband Mike and I were talking about morality and ethical codes of conduct. He described himself as being morally ambiguous and described me as being puritanical – but when I scrunched up my face in disapproval, he adjusted his word choice from puritanical to wholesome, which I was much more on board with.

He spoke about how his lines of morality differ than mine, which he felt was largely due to the fact that he’s a recovering addict and can traverse slippery slopes rather adeptly. He has the ability to rationalize to himself a wealth of tricky thoughts, which then lead to unwholesome, harmful actions. And while we all potentially have this capacity, I am not personally a frequent flyer – or even much of a visitor at all – of the slippery slope. I have and uphold very clear lines of distinction between what I feel is moral and what isn’t. My moral landscape is steadfast and relatively unwavering. This isn’t to say I don’t make mistakes of course, but more to say that my ethical compass is always close at hand and keeps me pointed in the direction of thinking, speaking, and acting in such a way that generates authenticity, skillfulness, and mutual benefit for myself and others.

Since we had this conversation, I’ve been mulling over the topic of ethics and values and moral codes of conduct. Both on an individual level and on a wider collective level. Mostly, I’ve been investigating this topic by asking myself questions, such as: What does it mean to have a high moral standard? What collective values does our western society promote (DOES it actively promote values?)? Is there/can there be a universal set of ethics which will ensure a healthy, happy, well-contented life? Is there such a thing as right and wrong when it comes to ethics and values?

Most people would readily agree that killing a human being just for the “fun” of it is wrong. But what about animals? There are folks out there who are just fine with killing animals for sport. Most people would probably say that lying isn’t cool, however most people do it. There are a sea of rationalizations that people use for telling white lies, bending the truth, hiding and deceiving others, or even telling outright untruths. Most of us would probably agree that adultery isn’t kosher, but many folks skirt lines of improper attention seeking and sexual behavior. The list goes on and on.

A couple of months ago, for instance, I was confronted with a piece of information that had been hidden from me by two friends of mine for over a year. When I was finally told, I felt betrayed and deceived. At first, I took it personally. How could they not have trusted me enough to have told me about this? They must not respect me very much to have kept this from me for so long? I guess I misjudged the closeness and quality of our friendship – this is NOT okay, I thought.

When I told Mike about this moral infraction, he said something like, “Makes sense.” As I respect his input and take on things and often gain insight from him having a very different perspective than I do, I asked him why. He said something along the lines of it not being a matter of personal affront as to why they hadn’t disclosed the piece of info I was now privy to after the fact. It was their own baggage they were contending with and it had nothing to do with me on a personal level.

Aye, there’s the rub.

While this made sense to me on one level, on another I felt genuinely hurt by their choice to withhold this particular piece of info from me. They hadn’t lied, per se. But they also weren’t honest with me either. And once I found out, I felt lousy for not having been told much sooner. It just didn’t feel good. Regardless of their intent, the impact was that their choice to not be truthful created harm.

This situation created a swell of emotions for me, to the extent of questioning whether I could maintain a friendship with either of these individuals, as it seemed our moral compass was not nearly as well aligned as I had thought. For Mike, it was no problem whatsoever. Even though he was also friends with both of these people and kept in the dark, it didn’t effect him at all. It’s not that he didn’t care in the sense that he didn’t love both of these people, but he didn’t care in the sense that it made any bit of difference to his ability to connect with them now that he knew. Whereas for me, it put into question the whole of our friendship, as I am not interested in investing time and energy into people with whom I cannot trust and confide in and who are unable to do the same in return.

Morality is a complex and fluid art, it seems.

Or is it?

I’m still working this one out.

 

P.S. Mike recommended I listen to the audio of a book being read on Youtube called Lying by Sam Harris. The whole of the book being read is only like 45-minutes and I really enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

 

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