Redefining ethics

Growing up we all have vivid dilations of what ethics means to us. It’s sort of an inbred thing that somehow miraculously was passed on to us through genes. Obviously, I’m kidding, but only about the genes part. For a majority of us, it’s a familial thing, passed on through traditions, or at least that’s what we’re told. Stories about our families, showcasing what historical right/wrong has led us to this exact position, shapes a lot of our early childhood. It’s like Maya Angelou would say, “you don’t really know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from.” So, I’m probably in the majority when I say my family, especially my Mother really has built the foundation on which my ethics currently stand. She really got the message through a mixture of practice and anecdotal evidence. I was like a Chinese wall when I was young, but her perseverance finally broke through.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve always been this way. I guess nobody is born perfect, and no one really ever is, but life’s in the pursuit they say. The pursuit of that ever so unattainable goal, that when you do reach it is ever so fleeting that makes you wonder if it was all worth it. But as Jefferson would say, but never explain, to live is to be in pursuit of some far reaching but hopeful goal. Come to think of it, a lot of ethics does revolve around abstract concepts that seem to make no sense in the real world driven by rules and numbers. There’s never been a book on ethics that explains exactly how a person should live. Ethics has either willingly or reluctantly, delegated that job to religion, and thus in a world where we’re defined by the rules we follow (or break) and the money we make, it leaves us quite confused. It’s something that in hindsight only goes to explain why the world was quick to move from polytheism to monotheism.

I mean even Aristotle, quite possibly the greatest philosopher of all time and tutor of the greatest conqueror of all time, a master of all things virtuous, ironically never actually defined what a virtuous person is. Ethics hence for the most part is something that lives by the sword and dies by it as well. Leaving open to interpretation the most foundational aspects of our lives is not the approach most subjects would take. Imagine for example, mathematics or science being open to interpretation? I’m not advocating for one approach or the other, but just saying in a world that’s primarily run by methods such as these, the more reason/value driven model of ethics was bound to be left behind. There’s a very fundamental reason for why there hasn’t been a single major breakthrough in ethical thinking in the last 100 years. Quite simply, our education system has foregone the unknown for the known, and while it’s a reasonable approach we’re actually lesser of for it. Families through anecdotal evidence might explain to you the what and how, but only you can find out the why. It’s that why found through a combination of reasoning, reading and mindfulness, that philosophers understood to be sacred between the body and the soul. They realized that it wasn’t their duty to explain the why to you because nobody knows yourself better than you. After all, it’s that pursuit of why, what we call life.

This all brings me back to tradition, and the importance of a value-based upbringing. To be quite honest I wasn’t the nicest kid when I was younger. Looking back at it now, there’s a lot of things I wish I could go back and change, but I also realize those moments have helped me become the person I am now. I didn’t really understand the value of the knowledge my mother or my family was imparting on to me until I was much older. The importance of tradition, the importance of why you treat people the way you do. When you’re a kid, nothing really matters except you. I had a profound lack of empathy for those around me, and instead of fixing that, I channeled it into being resentful towards those very same people. Brushing aside their pain, prioritizing myself above them. To best describe it, I wasn’t maturing, I was just stuck, that is until life gave me a kick in the backside. It was then that I finally understood the pain of others, the value of those countless lessons that I thought were never ending monologues by mom. It wasn’t until then, that I realized the importance of tradition. It might be an imperfect system of teaching ethics to your younger ones, but as they say, “you don’t know where you’re going, unless you know where you’re coming from.”

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