Ethics

Besides the basics of nutrition and regular exercise, where are we to discover well-being? The answer is simple.

But it’s so hard to achieve.

There are three fundamental aspects to the good life:

  1. Community
  2. Connection
  3. Character

If we have community and connection, we have a social system that promotes our highest potential and soothes us in turbulent times.

Though these won’t matter if we don’t have the disposition to appreciate them. And a lack of rightful understanding and conduct leads to toxicity and dysfunction in our lives. So it’s necessary that we strive to know what it means to embody good character.

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I found the attached picture on Reddit a few days ago with the headline “This photo taken in Paris perfectly captures the spirit of an era.”

My first thought was that the poster was right. We live in an era characterized by a willful disconnection to many social problems. It seems like if it’s not impacting people directly, they would prefer to ignore the problem – presumably out of selfishness or a belief that they can’t do anything about it, so they shouldn’t let it be a burden.

But I think that there’s more that needs to be said. The trouble with social media is that it boils down complex issues into pithy, superficial headlines. And, let’s be honest, most of us just read the headlines. This results in taking sides without thoughtful consideration of the context or other pertinent factors and could likely be a leading cause of much of the polarization we seem to be experiencing.

Our era is characterized by much more than mere selfishness. Don’t believe me, check out reddit.com/r/wholesomememes. Here’s a taste:

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Most people are not walking around looking to one-up each other. Sure, there’s a lot of competition. But to boil down the 21st-century Western world into a unique kind of psychopathic self and technological-absorption is ridiculous.

We are complex creatures, experiencing unique realities with different values.

However, there has been some progress made that gives insight into some common themes.

At our deepest, for instance, we all want connection, a meaningful life, and to feel loved and accepted – both by ourselves and by others.

Selfishness, greed, corruption, ego trips, prejudice, and abuse have existed since the dawn of civilization.

Moses freed the slaves. Native Americans battled for territory. And tycoons built America on the backs of people with no access to education.

Never underestimate the difficulty in attempting to define an era. There are powerful stories and nuanced truths everywhere.

The story of the grass growing can be purely scientific. You can focus on the photosynthetic process and the intricacies involved with the conversion of sunlight to energy. Or it might be about values and ethics. Kentucky grass is foreign to many areas, and its use in many yards is contributing to a decrease in native prairies, which harms local wildlife. Or they can be spiritual and enchanting. The Talmud says that “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'”

Yes, there are problems. There always will be. But you can choose faith, hope, idealism, and wonder or you can choose cynicism and nihilism. Both tend to be equally correct. Right now there’s simply no way to know for sure. And secretly we all want to take the first route.

Here’s a simple reminder you can keep with you for hope when all seems to be going wrong: we tend to crave a happy ending.

Just BS it.

How many of us follow this line of reasoning?

If you do, it says a lot about you that you might not realize.

It says that you’re not comfortable saying “I don’t know.”

That you are okay stretching the truth.

That you don’t value integrity.

So instead be honest and upfront and do the work beforehand.

 

A friend recently told me “I feel like I’m walking a tight rope of razor blades. On one side is a path of righteousness. The other is a path of evil. I feel like I can’t fully commit to the path of goodness because the good man can’t do any good. Good requires the ability to do evil, to harm if necessary.”

This is not an uncommon belief, that life is all shades of gray. This is true to a degree. There will inevitably come times in our lives that any decision will hurt someone. This dilemma has existed for thousands of years. The Hindus say that the solution is to strive for pure, good intention and eventually we will free ourselves from negative karma.

Here’s my take: goodness does not necessitate a gray area. Goodness is merely a commitment to the virtues. We can be good and still eliminate bad by following the virtue of justice. It’s a continual striving, a continual reflection, a continual battle. In times when it is hard to differentiate what is just and what is merciful, it is necessary to surround yourself with a good-natured, trusted counsel who can shed some light. These are your friends and mentors who are walking kindred paths.

It will be hard, but the mere act of striving places you on the good side of the tight rope. Learn and follow the ways of virtue, and don’t fret over the possibility of falling victim to evil. As long as you seek the good and have fellow travelers for accountability, you’re going to be fine.

You may not always get it right. That’s okay. You’re still good. You’re just in the arena.