Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For Sunday, December 28, 2014
Ethical Vitamins for the New Year
David W. Hegg
Since we live in a world enamored with vitamins and supplements, I’d like to suggest 4 suggestions for a better ethical life in 2015. As I have viewed the public discussions regarding justice, race, politics, and progress in America, it has been discouraging to see just how poorly we are as a people is carrying on a civil, intellectually honest, and beneficial conversation. We had better improve in our ability to take in facts, push them through an informed logical and ethical grid, and propose useful and workable answers and solutions. Apart from this we will continue to foster great division and the damage it always entails. Here are my “ethical vitamins” for a new year.
1. Communicate, don’t just “send”: Communication is essential to profitable dialogue but I fear we are more prone to use keystrokes, in a relational vacuum, and hit “send” than we are to do the hard work of face-to-face listening, understanding, and responding. Telling is never communicating. Communication is all about creating understanding among all parties rather than merely firing off missiles of opinion. Invective may make you feel better, but if your goal is to improve a situation, an unemotional commitment to active listening and winsome response will provide for a much better, and more ethically satisfying, outcome.
2. Read, don’t just watch: Friends, you simply cannot entrust your mind to the mainstream media and let them provide you with the facts and commentary you need to make a proper, informed, and ethically balanced decision on most things. In addition to obvious bias on all sides, there is the basic problem that complex issues are such because they are too complex to be described or solved in 3 minute sound and video segments. What you get when you only watch are the things that make for ratings.
We need to get back to reading, and by this I mean books and essays and opinion columns on a broad scale. I will stop short of recommending my favorites lest my own bias invade this column. But, I will recommend reading the books written by respected historians of our day as they look at today’s political and social issues. Biographies of great men and women are also a must if we are to become knowledgeable about the way time and culture affect societies and the lives in them.
3. Contemplate, don’t just react: We’ve all seen what reaction does as we’ve watched the damage done in Ferguson, as well as the way both political parties jump to skewer their opponents without first getting all the facts. So, it is our job to take in information from the best sources we can find, and then analyze them before forming opinions. It is also necessary to hold back our emotional biases, and perhaps this is the hardest thing to do simply because we’ve all been programmed to be “incensed” when something “outrageous” happens. This is true on both sides of the racial and political aisles. But it just isn’t helpful! When emotion takes the engineer’s seat, we often find ourselves driven off the rails. Here’s a tip: pretend you are a judge in a court of law, and have to analyze the facts presented and come to a judgment. Will you be fair and unbiased, or give in to the political and societal pressure that surrounds you? You be the judge.
4. Improve, don’t just settle for progress: As Americans we have this deep-seated sense that things are going to get better. This is so despite the increasing sense that things are getting worse. There is great evidence that this hope we have comes from centuries of Christian teaching about the future. But, be that as it may, the hope that things are getting better – really progressing – has no benefit personally unless we all, as individuals, determine to get better as people and as neighbors ourselves.
Progress usually is understood as the economy getting better, crime diminishing, and people of all kinds having more opportunity to live better lives. But I am suggesting that this isn’t enough. We also must be intentional to improve ourselves individually, regardless of the circumstances that surround us. Are you poor? Don’t allow poverty to keep you from improving your character, deepening your ethical commitments, or pursuing your goals. Are you rich? Don’t allow your wealth to make you lazy, arrogant, or to look down on those with less. Dedicate yourself to being a better person, using your excess righteously, and refusing to allow your wealth to become your god. Regardless of your situation, the best way to make 2015 a great year is to become intentional about improving in your areas of weakness. Complacency in the face of mediocre character will always challenge any dreams of a better life.
May we all enjoy a happy, prosperous, and ethically satisfying New Year!
Picture credit: Stuart Miles, Freeditialphotos.com