Tag Archives: ethics

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 51” by Lao Tzu

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Tao gives them life,
Virtue nurses them,
Matter shapes them,
Environment perfects them.
Therefore all things without exception worship Tao and do homage to Virtue.
They have not been commanded to worship Tao and do homage to Virtue,
But they always do so spontaneously.

It is Tao that gives them life:
It is Virtue that nurses them, grows them, fosters them, shelters them, comforts them, nourishes them, and covers them under her wings.
To give life but to claim nothing,
To do your work but to set no store by it,
To be a leader, not a butcher,
This is called hidden Virtue.

This passage is interesting and somewhat challenging. I read it a couple times, and I think I have a sense of what Lau Tzu was trying to convey.

The Tao is the source of all existence, and hence, all things that exist in our universe, whether those things are animate or inanimate. Everything is a manifestation of the divine source, or, explained in terms of physics, everything is comprised of energy.

So how does Virtue come in to play? I think the problem is that we’ve been trained to relate virtue with ethics or some form of moral code, which really only applies to sentient beings. But I don’t think that this is what Lau Tzu was referring to. I feel that what he meant by Virtue is the interconnectedness and relationship between all things, that there is really no separation. We are part of the environment, and the environment is a part of us. We share an intrinsic connection with all living things, plant and animal, as well as a connection to the elements. To understand and respect this relationship is the source of wisdom, which is the goal of individuals on the path of the Tao.

I’m not sure if this is what Lau Tzu meant, but it is the impression I get from reading this passage. As always, if you have other insights to share, please do so in the comments section.

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Thoughts on “Strangers Drowning” by Larissa MacFarquhar

This is the latest book that I read for the book club to which I belong. It’s a look at people who dedicate themselves to doing the most good that they can possibly do, often sacrificing their own happiness and well-being, as well as that of their families, for the sake of assisting complete strangers. MacFarquhar refers to this type of people as do-gooders.

She begins the book with her definition of a do-gooder.

This book is about a human character who arouses conflicting emotions: the do-gooder. I don’t mean a part-time, normal do-gooder—someone who has a worthy job, or volunteers at a charity, and returns to an ordinary family life in the evenings. I mean a person who sets out to live as ethical a life as possible. I mean a person who’s drawn to moral goodness for its own sake. I mean someone who pushes himself to moral extremity, who commits himself wholly, beyond what seems reasonable. I mean the kind of do-gooder who makes people uneasy.

(p. 3)

So why would a person who wants only to do good in the world make others uncomfortable? That’s a legitimate question, which MacFarquhar also addresses early in the book.

One reason may be guilt: nobody likes to be reminded, even implicitly, of his own selfishness. Another is irritation: nobody likes to be told, even implicitly, how he should live his life, or be reproached for how he is living it. And nobody likes to be the recipient of charity. But that’s not the whole story.

(p. 6)

The rest of the book explores the personal stories of various altruistic do-gooders—their motivations, challenges, and so forth. They are all really interesting, and many are inspiring, but when MacFarquhar examined social workers, it hit a little close to home for me.

At first the social worker may become too emotionally involved with his clients, so that when they fail he suffers, both because they are unhappy and because their failure is his failure, too. It’s hard to spend his days confronting devastating problems that he cannot fix—the misery and helplessness rub off on him.

Gradually, he learns to be more detached. He realizes that he needs to be tough, and to develop a thick skin. But if he becomes too detached, he stops caring about his clients at all.

(p. 163)

Many years ago, when I decided to go to college in my late 20s as a non-traditional student, I intended to go into counseling. As I started taking my basic required classes, I also took on a part-time job as a mental health technician in the chemical dependency ward at a local hospital. I had a strong desire to help people, and the primary residents in this program were pregnant teenage girls addicted to crack cocaine, so there was no shortage of suffering individuals to whom I could offer help. But the turning point for me was when one young woman completed the 28-day program, was released, went to a crack house, and got shot in the stomach. Her baby died inside of her. I had gotten to know this person fairly well during her four weeks there, and I was devastated. The pain and sadness were so intense, I realized that I could not do this job with the level of detachment needed to be effective, and maintain my levels of compassion and empathy for others. I decided then and there that I would need to pursue a different career path.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Not only is it thought provoking, it is very well written. It challenged me to look at how much I am doing for the overall good of the world, and how much more I could possibly do.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading challenging stuff.

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Doctor Who – Eleventh Doctor: Issue 9

DoctorWho_09

In this issue, the Doctor, Alice, Jones, and the ARC travel to SERVEYOUinc where they discover that the Talent Scout and the ARC were once one: ARC being the mind of the Talent Scout. Things go from bad to worse as the scout takes control of the Doctor. We are left with quite the cliffhanger.

This issue provides some of the strongest criticism against corporations that we seen so far in this series. Early on, the Doctor states:

A corporation is a very special kind of monster.

As they storm the corporate office, the criticism gets even stronger.

Doesn’t matter, whatever’s up there, whatever they’ve done, they’re just… monsters, that’s all. Because they don’t have the imagination not to be monsters. They can’t think of any way than cruel and cowardly.

While the writers are certainly tapping into the anti-corporate sentiment that seems to be growing, my personal feeling is that a corporation is only as ethical as the individuals who are running the corporation. There are ethical corporations out there that are the result of leaders who possess values. Conversely, there are unethical corporations out there that are the result of leaders who do not have a strong moral sense. I do not think it is right to make a blanket statement against all corporations based upon the actions of some. It’s the same as making blanket statements against a group of people based upon the actions of a few individuals who fall into that category.

Frankly, the more I think about this, the more disappointed I am with the writers here. I am getting tired of this mentality where we label entire groups based upon the actions of a few. This is yet another example of that tendency. I will have to consider whether or not to continue reading this series.

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Black Widow: Issue #2

BlackWidow_02

This issue worked for me on several levels. First, it focuses on a single “assignment” making it work well as a stand-alone comic. Secondly, it builds on some of the larger themes that the writer seeks to establish regarding the Black Widow. Finally, the story is written in a non-linear manner, almost like the weaving of a web, where the strands of the story connect and cross each other until it all comes together at the end.

Early in the tale, Natasha muses about ethics.

Finding your own jobs means you get to exercise your own ethics. But ethics isn’t a science. Which is to say… you do your best… but that doesn’t make you right.

This got me thinking. As a society, we like to think of ethics as some ideal which should guide us. But when you think about it, ethics is a very grey area. It’s open for interpretation. What is considered ethical in one country may be abhorrent in another. Ethics is defined as the “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.” Those principles often mean different things to disparate groups and individuals.

Throughout her assignment, Natasha makes a series of mistakes. When she finally returns to her apartment, a stray cat she has been feeding is pawing at her window seeking entrance. Natasha says aloud, both to the cat and to herself:

I can’t let you in. I’m sorry! That’s one mistake I won’t make twice.

I sense here that at one point in her past, Natasha let a person into her life and that there were consequences for doing so. There is something that haunts her memory, a mistake for which she must atone. But whatever it is shrouded in the web of secrecy that she has spun about her.

So far, this series is holding my interest. Expect a post on Issue #3 soon.

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