“Until we stop harming one another and other sentient beings we will remain savages.” The saying from my old guru goes to the heart of high ethical standards. High standards, looked at from a different angle is etiquette. Emily Post wrote, “Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.”
A take-away from these two points of view is that we can create a good life for oneself and others by thinking and behaving well. Behavior rooted in respect and kindness towards all living beings is the gold standard for living the best life possible. High ethical standards are the glue that holds civilization together.
Even if a person wishes to enjoy great personal power within society, she or he builds it by utilizing competence, effectiveness, innovation, and strong relationships. All of these go to waste if high standards and ethics are not included in the mix.
My friend Robert, who is a nurse, believes that society would be much better off if everyone ordered their lives by the phrase, “First do no harm” as stated by the 19th century surgeon Thomas Inman. This principle was stated and frequently re-stated throughout Robert’s studies in nursing school. In effect, it might be best to not do something than to risk causing greater harm than good. To determine when to help or when to allow a circumstance to “naturally” run its course requires engaging the highest ethical standards in forming that decision.
I agree with Robert on this point. Imagine people whose decisions and actions affect others, perhaps politicians. If they sincerely and strictly abided by the ethic of non-harming, how would our government operate? By virtue of basic governmental influence, how would the general culture of the nation improve? I know this idea is a stretch, but it is still worthwhile considering such a scenario.
Robert reminded me that some doctors and nurses only follow this ethic in their professional lives yet fail to integrate it into their private and civil lives. So by that reasoning, anyone can practice the standard of non-harming, including medical professionals and the rest of us if we all are mindful not to compartmentalize our thoughts and behavior.
“If a work of art is rich and vital and complete, those who have artistic instincts will see its beauty, and those to whom ethics appeal more strongly than aesthetics will see its moral lesson. It will fill the cowardly with terror, and the unclean will see in it their own shame.”–Oscar Wilde
In many ways, the controversial Oscar Wilde was an ethical man. He was guilty of violating some moralistic, legal norms of Victorian society, but he did hold himself to high standards. One only needs to read and think about his literary works to understand Wilde’s ethical ideals. While he did not model or encourage conventional religiosity, Wilde presented generosity, respect, and ethical decency in personal relationships. Perhaps Wilde’s most flagrant fault was his Victorian predilection to be moralistic and preachy. We are reminded of the karma of finger-pointing because of Wilde’s flawed, complicated life.
One thing to remember about standards is that they can evolve or devolve as we get older. To maintain healthy standards is to have compassion for all life. Wisdom teachers throughout the ages understood that compassion for all beings is the beginning and foundation of all ethics.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes journalist/commentator Bill Moyers. “Our very lives depend on the ethics of strangers, and most of us are always strangers to other people.”