Making It Happen

I had a post ready to go this morning when a friend suggested that I continue on the subject of morality. I decided that was a good idea. When you’re rolling, why not keep rolling? First of all, some semantics. Right and wrong, and good and bad are words that denote concepts. The concept of right and wrong is nothing more than something that the majority of people agree on. Our laws are made on the idea that most people agree on what is right and wrong. That doesn’t mean however, that there is an absolute right or wrong. People often disagree on what is right or wrong. How then do we know what morality means? If you think that being rude to someone because they deserve it is being a moral person, then that’s your idea of morality. Are you right or wrong in thinking that way? The majority of people would probably say you’re wrong, that no one deserves your rudeness. Are they right or wrong? Right and wrong are often determined by the consequences of your actions. If the consequences are disagreeable, you were probably wrong. So for my purposes here, I’m going to go with the majority.

Quality is a concept that compares one thing to another. “I have a high quality TV,” usually mean a very good, expensive TV. Quality is most often used to describe things as opposed to actions, speech, or thoughts. Applying quality to ourselves relates to morality. Two books that come to mind on the subject of quality relating to people are, “Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert M Pirsig and “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. Each of these books talks about the quality of our speech, actions, and thoughts. Pirsig’s book goes into the area of metaphysics, and Ruiz’s takes a more practical approach. Both however say that we should apply quality to everything we think, do, or say.

The term “Best Life” has been thrown around a lot these days. Mostly in today’s meaning it’s applied to superficial things like lifestyle, grooming, physical appearance, material desires, etc. Self help books take up miles of shelf space in brick and mortar bookstores and the titles online are endless. But do they delve into morality? Do they explain why the quality of your speech, actions and thoughts make more difference than just about anything else?

The Dalai Lama has said, “If you cannot help someone, at least do no harm.” This hits to the core of what it means to be a moral human being. Not harming others. And by others we can include the earth, environment, animals, etc. Do no harm. It’s a simple idea, but one that’s hard to follow. It takes being self aware, of being awake in the moment. It takes being conscious of the things we think, do, and say. Most of us are so caught up in the motions of day to day living, taking care of our children, putting food on the table, going to work, that we don’t have much time to examine our motives or thoughts. But it’s important that we do. To be a moral person, to apply the concept of quality to our daily lives, we need to be conscious of it. We can’t just float through our days on automatic and expect that everything will work out. If we want to moral people, we have to make that happen.

Examining our lives to see if they follow the moral code we decide we want means taking a deeper look at who we really are. This can be troublesome. Sometimes we find that we don’t like certain aspects of ourselves. I know that I have shortcomings. And if I really want to improve my morality, my quality, I need to work on those things. When we look in the mirror we want to see the kind of person that other people like. The kind of person that others will want to be around. And not superficially, but a good and decent person that others will genuinely enjoy. This is not to say that we should become better people for the benefit of others. Although they will benefit from us being a morally decent person, we must do this for ourselves.

There are many people in the world that most of us would agree are immoral people. Greed is the culprit for most of it today. The desire for more money, or power or whatever cause people to do things most of us agree are wrong. Things that hurt others. When we act on our selfish desires most of the time it turns out bad for other people. And it turns out bad for ourselves as well because nothing in life is permanent. When we lust after money, we just want more. Power, or the control of others goes to are heads. It’s like a drug. Controlling others for our own benefit is a high that’s hard to come down from. In these cases morality goes out the window. Morality should not be something we take lightly or for convenience. It should be important enough for us to make it a priority. It can change the world.


Second Verse, Same As The First

The title of this post, “Second verse, same as the first,” is a line from the Herman’s Hermits song, Henry the Eighth. I’m going to continue talking about morality so this post is sort of like the last one, but not quite. I only got one “like” on yesterdays post, (thank you Rachel) so maybe morality isn’t a popular subject. If we think about morals, we start thinking about our own morals and that leads to taking a deeper look at ourselves. That, can be uncomfortable. As with all things, I try to take the uncomfortable along with the comfortable, the good with the bad, that sort of thing. It’s good to be balanced. You see so many things today, such as Facebook memes, TV, newspaper, and magazine ads about being happy. Buy this, eat that, consume this and you’ll be happy. The truth is, it’s not good for you to be happy all the time. A good balance of happy/sad, comfortable/uncomfortable, is healthier. The bad times help you appreciate the good times more. Being uncomfortable, especially with yourself, helps you grow as a person. If we don’t know we have a problem, how can we fix it?

So, back to morality. How can two people have completely different outlooks morally, on the same subject. The pacifist feels that war is completely unnecessary, the killing of others completely unacceptable. The war hawk believes that war is necessary and even good. To accomplish your goals, to get what you want, sometimes you have to kill some people. Sometimes even siblings have viewpoints that are that different. Born and raised by the same parents, under the same conditions and they still have moral outlooks that are miles apart. I’m not sure if it can be explained, and that is why the Philosophy of morals exists. To try and find answers.

My own moral viewpoint as to war is somewhere in between pacifist and not pacifist. When it comes to conflict I think all other avenues should be explored before going to war, and only going to war when it’s necessary to protect yourself and your country. Even then, war is still morally objectionable. That’s my feeling. How did I come by that? I’m not sure I know, but it’s how I feel.

One of the ways people find war/killing/mistreatment of others more acceptable is to demonize the “enemy.” Make them seem less than human. Call them savages, murderers, rapists, etc. White Americans did that to Native Americans. They did it to African American slaves. And even today, our own president does it to Mexicans and Central Americans. Gay people have been called sick and immoral, Muslims are all called terrorists. If you make your target seem “less than” it becomes easier to treat them badly. This is all part of morality. Convince yourself that some people are just evil and you can justify many things that maybe you normally wouldn’t. Morality is fluid. Our moral outlook fluctuates depending on a lot of criteria. While you wouldn’t think of taking a big stick and beating your neighbor who’s nice to you, that guy down the street who’s always playing loud music at midnight deserves a whacking. Fluid morality.

So why is morality fluid? It depends on how we feel. It depends on what we fear. One neighbor is nice to you, the other one isn’t. Does one deserve less than the other one? Or more? Why do we feel more compassion towards one than the other? We feel compassion for people who are starving because we feel they don’t deserve it. For a brutal murderer who gets life in prison we feel little compassion because after all, she killed someone. She deserves what she got. Fluid morality. Our feelings change with the situation. Is this a protection system built into our brains to protect us from what we fear? Does our moral code change with our feelings because our morality is our feelings?

These are questions I ponder. No wonder my mind is such a mess! This is the reason I write. To get all this stuff out of my head helps me think more clearly about it. I’m endlessly fascinated by the question of why people are the way they are. How they see good verses bad and why. And more importantly, how do we arrive at our moral values and what happens to change them? Fun stuff!

What Is Morality?

I’m about to start reading a book titled, “The Elements Of Moral Philosophy,” by James Rachels and Stuart Rachels. Now in it’s 9th edition, it is used as a text book by many Philosophy programs around the country. I’ve been thinking about morality lately, in light of all the current happenings in the U.S. such as the immigrant situation, our president, and famous people being arrested for seemingly immoral acts such as rape, wire fraud, theft by swindle, etc, etc. So the question is, what is morality? As far as laws are concerned, how is morality decided upon, and where does morality come from? Is my sense of morality the same as yours? If you’ve read philosophy you will understand that few if any books give you concrete answers. Often times they leave you with more questions. This is not a bad thing, however. Mostly I hope to find insights on what other people’s ideas on morality are. The more you know, as the T.V. commercial used to say, the more you know.

So what is morality? From the Oxford online dictionary we have this: “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.” This definition pretty much leaves the question wide open. Purveyors of pyramid schemes believe it’s perfectly alright to cheat stupid people out of their money. We hear tales all the time of the elderly being cheated by con game artists. These people’s sense of morality tells them that this is okay. This differs sharply with the morality of honesty. So obviously morals differ from one person to the next. But how can this be? If my morality is different from yours, how do we both come by it? How do we arrive at two separate answers to the same question? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that, but the question of how we each arrive at our own definition of what morality is, is fascinating.

Does religion play a part in morality? Do you get your morality from the god you believe in? Many people think so. One Christian preacher online said he believed that if he didn’t have a relationship with god he would be out raping and murdering. Thank god for his god, I guess. If morality comes from god, then what about all the people who don’t believe, that are good and decent people? And what about all the people who do believe that commit atrocities in society? The Dalai Lama says that his religion is kindness. That’s all, just be kind. But what is kindness? If a woman shoots her partner because she thinks she’s just too stupid to live, is she being kind? Putting her out of her misery? Maybe this is not a good example because most of us probably feel shooting someone would be immoral. But there are those who don’t. Is helping someone who doesn’t walk very well cross the street, kindness? These two examples are markedly different but both could be considered kindness from a certain point of view. So how do we decide what morality is and how do we argue the differences?

I believe morality is something you learn. From the beginning of your life through to the end, you are deciding what morality is. I believe it is based on many factors from how you are raised, the environment you are in, to the influences you are subjected to. Each person has their own idea of what being moral is. The laws of the U.S. are based on what the majority believes is moral. In some countries it is acceptable to behead some one for certain crimes. Others, it is not. If we got our morals from a god then we’d all think alike, wouldn’t we? If we were instilled with morality from a creator would we even need laws? Wouldn’t we just all simply know how to act? Our ideas of what is good or bad are based on what we think is good and bad for us personally.

Here’s a scenario: You are starving. You have no money and no way to get some. There are no places you can go to get free food. Is it immoral to steal a loaf of bread? And another: Your loved one is slowly dying from a terrible, painful disease. They ask you to end their life. Is it moral to end their suffering? To kill them. How do you decide? What is right in these situations, and what is not? This is what fascinates me about morality. How you come up with the answer says a lot about you as a person. If two people come up with two different answers, is one of them wrong? How do we know?

I don’t know why these things afflict me so, but I’m glad they do. To keep your mind working, especially as you get older is a very good thing. A discussion of morality is really good because these questions are hard to answer and yet many of our thoughts and actions are based on our personal morality, every day. Unfortunately, we spend very little time actually thinking about it. We don’t question our morality much. Most of us see a news item or hear something about something someone did and immediately we think we know whether or not it was right or wrong. But how do we know? That, is the question.