Are we willing to endure the hardships caused by being ethical?

07 May

Sometimes I run across an article that is just so important that I have to share it with everyone I can.  The article copied below from the Institute for Global Ethics is just such a piece of work.  Masonry has historically been at the forefront of ethical behavior and has often suffered for it.  Having the courage to stand up for the ethics you believe in is difficult but is required if we are to say that we hold a certain belief.  Please read this article carefully and think about how it applies to Masonry.


Can We Learn Moral Courage Or Must We Leave It To Others To Defend Freedom?

May 6th, 2013 • Posted in: Commentary

by IGE master trainer Alan Goodman

Last Friday, I had one of those great days that make living in the United States — specifically in Flushing, Queens, in New York City — something that millions of people around the world would give anything to be able to do. I am just 12 miles from Times Square, the virtual crossroads of the world, and with relative ease I can go from my quiet neighborhood to a tumultuous place where one can see and sometimes interact with the world’s renowned artists, authors, and intellectuals.

In Times Square, the home of the New York Times, the newspaper sponsors what they call Times Talks where people of note come and spend an hour or so discussing their particular talents with an interviewer and an audience of about 300 people. I don’t take advantage of these cultural opportunities as often as I could, but — as a student of the late Dr. Rushworth Kidder and a facilitator of his Ethical Fitness and Moral Courage seminars — when I saw that I could see Salmon Rushdie and Ai Weiwei discuss freedom and moral courage, I rushed to the online box office and bought my tickets.

My visit to Times Square reminded me of two important elements in my life. First, the need to continually acknowledge that the freedom I was born and raised with, the heritage of living in the place that was the cradle of religious tolerance some 350 years ago, and that grew into the United States, must not be taken for granted. Second, the work that I have been doing for the last 17 years, as a student of Dr. Kidder, is critically important. If we do not try to cultivate ethical decision-making and moral courage in our schools, in our society, and around the world, we may not be able to repel the forces that continually try to stifle the forms of freedom that we cherish.

Besides being an acclaimed and prolific author, Salmon Rushdie of course is known for having been made the target of a fatwa (or death sentence) by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini over the content of his satirical novel, The Satanic Verses. Despite being the focus of an ongoing campaign of hatred from groups in many countries, something that was exacerbated when he was awarded a knighthood for services to literature by the British in June 2007, he has fought back for freedom of expression by living his life out in the open, by frequently speaking out against oppression, and by continuing to write both fiction and non-fiction without fear of controversy. Having read more about his situation since the event, I am more surprised now than I was that evening at the lack of entry screening and little security between Mr. Rushdie and the hundreds of strangers getting up close and personal with him as he signed books at a table in the lobby after the discussion.

Ai Weiwei appeared at the event live from Beijing via Skype, speaking to us in real time and providing some recorded responses to questions posed earlier by the moderator. Ai, a multifaceted Chinese artist, architect, political and cultural critic, is a political activist who is still openly critical of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights.

Among their common themes was that true freedom comes from having an environment where the truth about history — the good, the bad, and the ugly — emerges from the voices of those (particularly writers and artists) who dispute the official view of history and who offer competing perspectives and recollections. Depending on where you are doing this, it of course requires varying degrees of moral (and physical) courage. Ai was detained for two months based on a vague charge of economic crimes.

Mr. Rushdie wrote an op-ed in the Times just a few days earlier entitled “Whither Moral Courage,” commenting on how he sees moral courage by artists and writers then and now. He laments:

We find it easier, in these confused times, to admire physical bravery than moral courage — the courage of the life of the mind, or of public figures…. It’s harder for us to see politicians … as courageous these days. Perhaps we have seen too much, grown too cynical about the inevitable compromises of power. There are no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore.

We no longer easily agree on what it means to be good, or principled, or brave…. Political courage, nowadays, is almost always ambiguous…. Even more strangely, we have become suspicious of those who take a stand against the abuses of power or dogma….

There’s nothing to be done but to go on restating the importance of this kind of courage, and to try to make sure that these oppressed individuals … are seen for what they are: men and women standing on the front line of liberty. How to do this? Sign the petitions against their treatment, join the protests. Speak up. Every little bit counts.

As I was listening to Mr. Rushdie and Ai Weiwei, I kept thinking about Dr. Kidder’s framework for approaching challenging ethical situations and wishing I could talk to Mr. Rushdie about them. Then, as it turned out, I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Rushdie the first question from the audience and I was a little surprised by his answer. I mentioned Dr. Kidder and his work and asked Mr. Rushdie if it is possible to teach people to learn moral courage. He thought for a moment and, after saying it was an interesting question, said that he wasn’t sure but, hadn’t really thought about that. I won’t try to report the rest of his answer here (it will be available online, in the paper, and eventually as a video).

After the presentation, I took the opportunity to have just a few words with Mr. Rushdie as he signed my copy of his memoir. I gave him a copy of Dr. Kidder’s book, Moral Courage, which he gladly accepted. I hope he reads it (he did seem very interested) because I believe he would support Rush’s framework and the notion that it is possible to teach and enhance the moral courage that he and Ai Weiwei are working so hard to promote.

Here, in brief is that framework (from Moral Courage):

Moral courage is defined by a three-stranded braid of action: a commitment to moral principles, an awareness of the danger involved in supporting those principles, and a willingness to endure that danger. Where those three domains overlap is where moral courage exists.

So, how can one summon up the moral courage to do the things Mr. Rushdie would like us to do? Follow these checkpoints (condensed):

  • Assess the situation — What is it that is preventing me from doing the right thing? Is it physical courage or moral courage?
  • Scan for values and principles — Can I describe, articulate, and build on the principles that I am actually trying to defend?
  • Contemplate the dangers — Develop a clear, realistic picture of what I am up against.
  • Endure the hardships — Am I willing to endure the anticipated hardships and can I deal with the emotional inhibitors or obstacles to enduring the hardships?
  • What can I rely on to get me through this? Can I trust in my experience, what I have been able to do in the past? Can I trust who I am rather than what I have done (the values and virtues that are part of my character)? Is there something beyond myself, some higher power, that I can trust to bring me through? Is there something, like gut feelings, telling me to go ahead even if my reason wants me to hang back?

IGE’s work on building school cultures, developing Ethical Literacy, and training our current and future leaders to use Dr. Kidder’s frameworks, will reinforce the supportive environments that can help our writers, our artists, and the rest of us act on our values when it may be difficult — and to support those who take stands for freedom in much more dangerous places.

Back to my hometown of Flushing, New York. In 1645, Flushing was established by English settlers under charter with the Dutch West India Company as part of the New Netherlands Colony. The director general of that colony was Peter Stuyvesant, an anti-Semitic and religiously intolerant person who forbade harboring Quakers in Flushing. Morally courageous people back then protested, at great risk, to the Company back in the Netherlands. A Jewish refugee from the Inquisition in South America named Asser Levy challenged Stuyvesant time and again and won permission from the Company to establish a synagogue, a kosher butcher store, a cemetery, and other important religious freedoms. Also, in 1657, the courageous Flushing town clerk, Edward Hart, created a document known as the Flushing Remonstrance supporting some 30 ordinary British citizens in protesting the ban forbidding the harboring of Quakers. The protestors cited the Flushing Town charter of 1645 which promised liberty of conscience and one of them, a farmer named John Bowne allowed the Quakers to meet at his house. Three hundred and fifty years later, Flushing is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse communities in the country, with its heritage as the cradle of religious freedom in what became New York and what grew into the United States of America.

When we watch the congressional hearings this coming week about the events in Benghazi eight months ago, we may see moral courage in action as people — knowingly and with the willingness to endure the consequences — take the career and personal risks that come from challenging the official version of recent “history.” Imagine then, if you will, doing the same thing in Communist China or in any of the countries where dissidents dare to dispute the official view of history. Those of us who live here should not take our freedom for granted.

©2013 Institute for Global Ethics

1 Comment

Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Random Thoughts


One response to “Are we willing to endure the hardships caused by being ethical?

  1. Chris

    May 8, 2013 at 10:53 am

    This reminds me of the recent Scottish Rite presentation of “Ethics on Trial.” People oftentimes envision “being ethical” as something that always leaves us feeling “good.” But having the moral courage to not only “do the right thing” but to also choose ethically knowing that no one but yourself and God are aware of the choice/sacrifice you’ve made when the only payment for your choice is a feeling of being emotionally bankrupt, humiliated, tortured or killed … that is the true test of a man’s convictions. Like those who must stand up to a government (i.e. china, etc) where “being ethical” means death for yourself and, possibly, your family. And … something to consider, as presented in “Ethics on Trial”, we don’t always have the luxury of time to make investigative reflection before choosing a path … sometimes we have a matter of seconds; as Dale Carnegie says “it is when a man is at the height of his greatest stress and at the breaking point of his emotions that you discover his true character” … if his nature is ethical then he will choose ethically and if his nature is unenlighted then he will choose what is best for his ego, for his reputation, for the acceptance of those he wishes to be accepted by, for his own personal agenda, for the protection of his self-image, or for any other of a myriad of reasons that, ultimately, only benefit himself in some way. The self-aware and self-reflective Freemason that is honest with himself and his God knows that being, choosing and acting ethically is the rocky and arduous “path less followed” and, through the course of the man’s life, he finds that ethics must be its own spiritual reward. I believe that being true to ethics is being true to God; succumbing to the tyrany of despots, in the form of bully’s, governments, the media, or the court of public opinion, only serves to suppress a law of nature and insult His gift … and that law is mankinds God-given right to exercise his freewill, to express his opinion, and to champion those same rights for others.

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