Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Life of Ethics

Yesterday I caught part of a BBC radio interview with Sir Nicholas Winton who saved over 600 Jewish children from certain death during Hitler's occupation.  If you are not familiar with his story, it's easy to find documentaries and interviews that are well worth watching. While this story is remarkable, the interviewer pointed out Sir Winton's lifetime of service to many charitable causes. And then he asked about religious belief. Sir Winton was born to Jewish parents but became a Christian in his early life, was baptized and described himself as a devoted follower. He became disillusioned with religion as he described realizing that both sides of the war were praying to the same god for victory. The interviewer then recounted the long list of lifetime service and asked, "If faith was not your motivation, what drove you to such levels of service?" Sir Winton answered with one word, "Ethics".
With prodding, he explained. If we would simply be driven by ethics, doing the right things, the world would be a better place, wouldn't it? Just simple love, compassion and doing the right things.
For those who have become disillusioned with religion, Sir Winton's explanation is as plain and simple as it can be. We watch righteous, religious leaders justify abandonment of love and compassion with an odd belief that god has some mysterious ethical standard that supersedes it.
And beyond religion, the lack of ethics has permeated our world in every corner. We live in a world that is driven by greed. In the US productivity is a huge focus - getting the most from the least. Meanwhile, we applaud those at the top for accumulating wealth and demonize the struggling masses in fear that they may "get something for nothing." How is a football player's effort worth millions and a teacher's effort worth thousands? How is a CEO's efforts worth thousands of times what the front line worker makes? What is the ethical answer?
Does anyone ask "what is the right thing to do?"
Living by ethics is very simple. "Do unto others what you would have others do unto you?"
Shed judgement. Look squarely at the facts and act on what is in front of you at the moment.
Sometimes it seems we have been taught to look for excuses not to do the right thing. If I feed that hungry cat that keeps showing up on the front porch, he will keep coming expecting food. True. And then he will return the favor by ridding your home of rodents and he will love you.
Feed people. Give them shelter. Do the right thing. Shed judgement. Shed expectation.
An interesting part of Sir Winton's story is that he did not try to follow the hundreds of children to see how their lives had gone. When asked about it, he said that he trusted that the many adopted homes were well vetted and his mother had ensured all was well. Indeed, you will see if you seek the reunion documentary, the stories are overwhelmingly positive. Sir Winton knew he had done the right thing and needed no validation.
When we know we are doing the right thing - the ethical thing - there is no need for validation.
I believe this is the most deeply spiritual path. It is driven from our deepest core and the deepest understanding of connection to all things. All other paths are false, no matter how you dress them.


1 comment:

  1. Well said, Linda.
    This reminds me of the debate that without religion the world would devolve into anarchy and degradation because only religious people (read Christian or Muslim or Jews) have a moral compass.I agree with Sir Winton, ethics is a human trait, not one exclusive to those following a religion. Almost always, religion is the source of conflict, not the solution. It blinds people to what is morally right.