Why is it Right?

Despite the previous post, sometimes the IMs around here are quite serious...

"Ethics are not based in a fear of regret, or guilt, or fear of retribution, but rather in compassion. Realizing that we are all essentially the same, and we all want essentially the same things - that is the basis of ethical behavior. It took me forever to get this, but basically everyone just wants to be treated well. We are truly ethical when we can understand the hurt of others. The lesson is that we all deserve decent treatment."

I wrote all that during a chat, and I wish I could own it. How often do we do the right things for the wrong reasons? I don't cheat on tests, but is it because I know it's unfair to the other students, or is it because I fear expulsion? I avoid meat, but is it to reduce the suffering of animals or because I fear heart disease?

In the long run the results are the same. It is a question of orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy - does it matter if the motivation is right, so long as the ethical thing gets done?

In a utilitarian sense, getting the ethical thing done regardless of the motivation is better than not getting it done at all, but without the compass of compassion we lose our way. We may fall into legalism, living by the hollow letter of the law, losing sight of the guiding principles.

There is an old Zen story about this...

"When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice."

I think we tie up the cat too often.


Mayren said...

Thank you for this post. I find it well written, thought provoking, and well seasoned with common sense that out planet has somehow turned well... uncommon. *huggles Linus*

His Sinfulness said...

Thanks, Mayren. I think the rest of my readership dislikes these posts. Don't they see the irony of moralizing by a guy called "His Sinfulness?" :)

Mayren said...

I love them and i'm sure they all take it in stride and if not well booo on them.
I'm telling all my friends to "shake the haters off" today. :)

Cerus said...

Actually, I have no issue with this type of post, Linus. I find them interesting and definitely topics that I wish would be the center of discussion in a much larger portion of the population.

When people are truly listening, I mean actually, truly listening, a response will often come late, if ever at all.

I find that with many of the people whom I engage with that this is not the case. They blurt out a sudden response and wash over all the nuances required to actually respond to the ideas put forth instead of the idea they want to respond to.

I found that many people in the secular student group on campus are very quick to respond, maybe out of youth, or inexperience (many have just renounced their faith). I do not know for certain nor could I say what their intentions are. Our office mate is another good example of this.

I strive to take seriously those things that require serious thought and response and, if I cannot, I prefer to remain silent on that topic. With the secular club and with our office mate, when you slow them down and make sure they think of what is being said, it often leads them to remain silent for long periods because they are actually addressing all the issues you put forth and not just their response to what they think you said.

Perhaps this is my own cat that I religiously tie up, but when I get others to engage in the same practice their arguments are much stronger in the end.

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