(note: This is written from a Wiccan POV. Since I am Wiccan, I wrote this for submission to a Wiccan website, but it touches on enough that I thought I would share it here. Let’s see your comments and thoughts on Ethics.)
Well, time for another lesson in morals. Yep, I am going to teach you about being a better person. After all, that is what life is all about, right?
Morals come from inside you. Your comfort with your stance on something. It comes from a sense of right and wrong on a whole range of issues, many of them very touchy subjects. I won’t try to dictate my morals to you but I will show you how to find your own morality from within you.
It all begins with learning. When one learns, the fog of Ignorance begins to lift. One finds out that there are more sides to the issue you are thinking on than just the part you see.
It’s like climbing a mountain in a fogbank. One trudges up the trail, sodden in a drippy mess, one foot behind the other, wondering if there is any point. However the Map says that you will have a wonderful view if you continue. So you keep going, seeing new sights and noticing trees and bugs and flowers, till you come out of the fogbank.
However, the mountain continues to climb before you. If you look behind, you can see the areas that you just climbed through, and can see where you have been. Most people would be tempted to stop.
Some, however, continue upward, learning more, and getting a grander vista of the area. They see the radio tower at the top of the Mountain, they see the timberline, and see more travelers. Again, one is tempted to stop.
But through persistence, one does reach the top, and now they not only see what they came through, but they also see what the mountain itself has blocked. They see an incredible tapestry of colors and shapes spread out before them, all with it’s own feel to it, and it’s own life.
This is the journey one takes to become a moral person. It starts when one is young, and they are told “no, no” by the parent. It continues to when one leans that it is not good to hit another person, just because you are mad at them. It evolves further when one questions, “Why isn’t that good to do, hitting when I am mad?”
As this process goes along, one starts becoming a moral person. The questions are answered, and usually the person in question gives a reason that makes sense to them internally as to the reasons it’s wrong. Usually it’s a justification, but that’s okay for now. And some of the basics of Morality begin to show up in the human psyche. Such as “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” (I’ll expand on this statement in a little bit.)
Once a specific section of this path is reached, one feels comfortable with the level they are at, and they usually stop challenging their own morals. Because of this, those justifications that I spoke of can become set as in concrete, and used to justify any number of things from that point on. This would be analogous to breaking out of the fog bank. The temptation to stop is overwhelming.
Unfortunately, put yourself on that mountain in your imagination. See the fogbank below you. Can you see much? Not really. Just because you have broken into an area where some things are clearer, with the justifications that you need for that comfort in your mind, that does not mean that you are a necessarily “illuminated” being now. You have a narrow focus and perspective. You can’t see anything on the other side of the mountain.
Most people realize this now (thankfully) and try to reach even higher. They think about the community as a whole, and try to figure out why certain things happen, and to justify things not only in their own immediate world view, but from a larger picture.
Let me take an example that is guaranteed to be emotionally charged. Abortion. Breaking out of the fogbank would be equivalent to knowing that you would never condone it for yourself, reaching the timberline would be Abortion activism, and getting to the top of the mountain would be realizing that you won’t know until you get into the position of having to have an abortion as to what you would do.
Unfortunately, there are too many out there who stop at the “timberline” and go no further. They take their narrow world view that they have learned and try to foist it onto others. Granted, they have a greater perspective of the situation from their greater height, but they still don’t have the full picture.
So, if learning is the key, how do we reach the summit? Studying all sides of an issue, before you take a stand.
In the abortion example, gaining the summit would entail reading the opposite side’s studies on the subject, talking to those who have had an abortion, and talking to proponents of the other side and weighing that knowledge against what you have learned over your lifetime. At that point, you can decide that “one view is better than the other.” But at least you will be equipped to see the other side of the argument.
And this process goes on all the time. Sayings like “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins” and “On the other hand…” are indicators that the person who is stating it is at least willing to try to consider the other side of the argument.
How does all this coincide with the Rede? Only in every way imaginable.
Here you have a profound statement: “An it harm none, do as you will”. The basis for most Wiccan spiritualism, magick, and morality. And you want to know one of the great truths of practicing this, it’s can’t be followed absolutely.
There is no way to live where nothing is harmed. By breathing, you are killing bacteria and viruses. They are just as alive as we are, just in a different form. By not breathing, you are harming yourself. By eating, you are killing plants, by not eating….
Well, you get the picture.
As an absolute law, it’s impossible (from my world view), but thankfully most Wiccans don’t see this. They see the spirit of the Rede which is “Live so that you harm as few as possible by your actions, and be prepared to take the consequences of those actions.”
So, now are you starting to see how morality and the Rede intersect? In order to live this feeling, this promise, to the fullest, we need to be able to take our core beliefs, and to weigh, not only OUR view, but the views of others against them. And we need to be ready to change our minds.
Without that capability, we would stagnate, and the Rede would be a promise shackling us, not a promise freeing our morals.
Now we come to ethics. Ethics, in my definition, are morals put into action. The ACT of working to change something is ethical behavior, and it comes from the moral behavior we learned earlier.
Such as a doctor. When the doctor is young, a child, they learn the morals they are exposed to, and what is right. As they go through medical school, they realize that they literally have the ability of life and death over the patients in their care. This brings them to the timberline in our parable upstairs. Once they realize that, they take an Oath to do no harm, and the rest of the Hippocratic Oath. That’s when the ethics come into play.
By giving their word, they have taken the first step into the realm of ethics. And it will usually come a test of these ethics upon the first choice making decision they reach of their professional careers. And those ethics are put to the test everyday after that. If the doctor in question continues to adhere to the Oath they took, as well as their personal morals, then they are an ethical being.
So being ethical is adhering to the morals you have, as well as honoring your promises to others and to Gods and Goddesses.
I realize that this is a really basic definition of the whole ethics/morality issues, and that just about any student of ethics can probably find holes in my logic, but these are the conclusions that I have come to during my lifetime.
Once that area, where ethical behavior is so ingrained that it is second nature, is reached, they are ready for modification of their morals again. They will still be considered ethical people if they continue to uphold their oaths and behave by their modified morals. But if their oaths are forsaken because of their re-thought morals, they can be called unethical, even if for them, their oath is not conflicting with their revised morals.
So a doctor, who has learned that killing is wrong, and whom has taken an oath to do no harm, who is now aborting fetuses in utero can be seen by the public at large as being unethical. However, the doctor in question sees no conflict.
He is not killing the mother, only a collection of cells that could grow into a human being. Indeed, by not removing that collection of cells, the mother’s life may be in danger or the potential human could be doomed to a half life, which is a greater harm than aborting it. To him his justification holds up under his own scrutiny as being moral and ethical.
And this is where we pull ourselves up to the summit of our ethical mountain. If we can see that, and acknowledge that in the doctor, we can understand his actions and now we have a broader vista. We may not agree with his actions, but we can see how he got to that area.
It is this understanding and empathizing that humanity needs to continue to grow and to flourish. We need to be able not to just see what we can from the fogbank, nor from the timberline, but we need to see the other’s point of view as well.
The Rede tries to get us to do that, but it cannot. It is an absolute statement, one that cannot be lived as it is currently stated. As such it is flawed, but the spirit of the Rede is what should be lived by us all. “So long as you are willing to take the responsibility for your actions on your soul, do as you will.”
And even that statement is not enough. More needs to be said about it that is currently implied, but not stated outright. Implied is the desire to know all the sides to the issue before you decide to take a stand. Implied is the research and skull sweat that will need to be done to understand another’s side. Implied is the suspension of disbelief that mandates that you at least consider that the other side is correct. And it also implies that you are willing to acknowledge that the other side is right for them.
When one can do all these things, Ethics and morality and Integrity flow out naturally as a spring flows into the river. Little effort will be required because you will always be looking at another side’s viewpoint, and questioning what you know as truth for you. The most common question in your mind will be “What if I’m wrong?”
This article is not intended to shake your beliefs, nor am I trying to impose my beliefs on you, the reader. I’m only pointing out the steps necessary to gain integrity and a well-developed sense of ethics and morals.
For the record, I despise abortion. I think it is an abomination to kill a being before it has a chance to live. But I do support those who choose to have an abortion as it being their right. I only oppose this practice in the cases of using abortion as contraception. That act makes my blood boil. But I am willing to ask, “What if I’m wrong” and the abortion is necessary for the mother’s health.
If you can look at all sides of the argument, and modify your morals to take into account someone else’s point of view and their arguments, and then have the courage to live by those rules you have imposed upon yourself, I will call you an ethical, moral being who had a great deal of integrity.
And I think that’s the highest compliment one person can give another.