Monday, April 30, 2012

The Secret Service Scandal: A question of Inside vrs Outside Ethics & Morality

Scandal!  Individuals from the president’s elite Secret Service Agency were fired for misconduct and unseemly behavior while in Columbia.  But what should be the driving force behind good conduct?

These agents crossed the line.  We are appalled.  But might we also be hypocrites?

Here’s what I mean.  In all honesty, our present social norms generally now laugh at what has come to be looked at as prudish standards of morality.  Old fashioned Puritan Prudery we call it, usually dismissed as outdated and over-restrictive.  Come on, it’s true!  Whether it’s a sitcom, comedy show, or an HBO special, anyone who seriously pursues a high moral standard these days, especially when it comes to sexual exploits, is made to look ridiculous, considered a prude, laughed at, and ridiculed.

What might have been called licentious or promiscuous behavior in past years is now accepted as normal sexual freedom of expression.  It’s called coming of age, maturity, being an adult.  You’re strange, weird, and perhaps even unnatural if you’re still a virgin at, let’s say, eighteen, let alone in your mid-to-late twenties.  “What a prude!”  The same attitude exists toward drinking and partying.  A “Teetotaler” is often laughed at with derision and disrespect: “You don’t drink?  You’re kidding right!  Who doesn’t drink?  How do you have fun?”

So it seems that we have a cultural contradiction on our hands.  On the one hand, we celebrate free sexual expression, heavy drinking, and great parties—“party-hardy man!”  On the other hand, we are taken aback, appalled at the discovery that our security officials—be they secret service or regular service, be they Feds or State police—engage in excessive drinking, hire prostitutes, and attend wild parties.

The fact is, our culture has come to define freedom to mean that anything goes.  I can do whatever I want as long as I do it privately and on my own personal time.  Conclusion: “When on duty, I must refrain; when off duty, what the hell, go for it!”  Anything goes.

However, a man or woman of true moral character does not divide one’s life between off-and-on, here-or-there, public-or-private settings.  A man or woman of true moral character is morally consistent—at all times, in all situations, and for the same reason—because it is right, it is good, and it is moral.

So here’s the real problem.  The moral compass is being removed from the inner sanctity of our heart and soul.  In such a culture, we can no longer depend on an individual’s moral character.  And, as the old adage says, it is impossible to “legislate morality.”  That is, such a “condition” cannot be fixed or corrected by legislative muscle or heavy-handed law enforcement, nor should it be.  For it is a matter of belief and conviction, a matter of the heart and soul.

That is, we either believe in our heart that excessive drinking and uninhibited indulgence in satisfying one’s sexual appetite is wrong period, or we do not.  If we really don’t think that there’s anything wrong with this kind of behavior in one’s private life, then it’s no longer a question of morality or moral character.  It becomes a mere question of following precise rules and regulations that are meant to ensure competency for adequately doing one’s job.

And this is exactly where we find ourselves as a society.  Once upon a time, it used to be enough to simply say, “Stick to your principles.  Be a man or woman of character.   That’s all we need ask of you.”  Now, it’s: “Here’s the rule book.  Follow these exact rules or you shall be severely reprimanded.”  Conclusion: “If it’s not listed in the rule book, I may be able to get away with it.”  That is, we can no longer simply look for people with a solid moral character.  So, we are forced to compile detailed lists of exact rules and regulations, strictly enforced, so as to ensure that we get the behavior that we want out of people.

In short, ethical standards now must come from the outside-in rather than from the inside-out.  We are throwing away our internal moral compasses in favor of external rules and regulations.  And that is what is making this society a dangerous place within which to live.  This does not bode well for us.  For real freedom starts from within.  Likewise so does having a solid dependable and trustworthy character.  It’s a matter of the heart, having internal moral convictions steering us in the right direction.  Simply obeying the letter of the law does not make a person morally good, trustworthy, or dependable.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Zimmerman Apologizes. So what’s in an Apology?

The Martin family wasn’t too happy about Zimmerman’s apology.  So, what is an apology?  Why apologize?  Is it necessary, if so, when, to whom, how?

What does an apology mean?

At its core, an apology is an admission of responsibility for a wrong committed, a hurt caused: “I did wrong.  I caused harm that, but for me, would otherwise not have happened.” 

What a genuine apology is not is a platform to excuse or defend one’s self.  Neither is an apology a demand for forgiveness.  Giving an apology does not release one from the consequence of being responsible or from being held accountable for the wrong that has been done. 

So why apologize?

We apologize in order to take ownership and to acknowledge that we have erred, to admit that we are the cause of another person’s hurt or harm, to admit that we are in the wrong.  At its core it is admitting that we have wrongly hurt, harmed, or offended another.

Thus, giving an apology is a small step toward correcting or helping to bring healing to the pain that was caused.  It is a significant step because personal recognition of responsibility for causing harm is essential in order to try to “make things right.”  By apologizing, one is taking ownership and accepting responsibility for causing harm and therefore admitting obligation: “I did you wrong; therefore, I owe you.  I am in your debt.”  It is an open and vulnerable step toward the injured party rather than a closed defensive step away from the injured party.  It is a step that ideally seeks to restore and/or offer a form of restitution (understanding that the consequences of some wrongful actions can never ever be fully restored—in this life).

How does one receive an apology?

Most likely the recipient of an apology will wonder: First, is the apology sincere?  That is, is the person doing the apologizing truly accepting and taking responsibility for a “harm done,” or is this person merely trying to “get off the hook” and evade real accountability for doing harm and trying to escape its consequence?  And secondly the recipient will most likely ask him/herself, “Am I obligated to forgive this person just because he/she has apologized?”

As to the second question, the answer is no.  The recipient of an apology is in no way obligated by the apology.  The recipient of an apology never owes the apologizer absolution or forgiveness for the harm that was done him or her, simply because an apology was given.  Forgiveness is always the prerogative of the person that has been harmed and never the right of the person doing the apologizing.  Though forgiveness is in fact good for the person doing the forgiving, it is not necessarily so for the person being forgiven.  Thus, the person receiving the apology never “owes” the apologizer forgiveness.

On the other hand, the offender is in debt to the one offended and owes him/her the following: (1) open and sincere honesty (2) acceptance of responsibility, an admittance of doing wrong (3) if requested, an explanation of some kind without excusing or defending one’s self (why did you say/do…), and most significantly (4) a willingness to accept the just consequences for the wrong committed.

Thus, a truly sincere apology never means, “I am sorry that you [the hurt or offended one] have taken my word or action the wrong way and have misconstrued my behavior.”  Neither does a sincere apology mean, “I had my reasons, and so I’m not really at fault here, but since you are offended, I apologize.”

Are apologies important?

Yes, sincere apologies are significant and necessary.  By contrast, consider a non-apology?  A non-apology is an unwillingness to take ownership.  By refusing to apologize, the offender is not only rejecting any responsibility for harm that he or she has done but is unwilling to even acknowledge that any wrong has been committed in the first place?  A non-apology is a declaration of innocence saying in effect, I have done no wrong and harmed no one.  Likewise, insincere apologies are deceitful and manipulative, putting on an appearance of remorse while seeking to avoid real accountability.

But a sincere apology is an important first step in “making things right,” a step toward taking “restorative action” for a wrong that has been committed.  And as such, it can be a first small step toward regaining one’s integrity.  It all comes down to authenticity: Is it real, genuine, sincere?  And that is a question of motive, only the heart can answer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Golden Mean is Always Best

Excess and deficiency, both are vices, said Aristotle.  The mean between the two is the virtue.  Hence, extremes are bad—always bad.  “The extremes are opposed both to the mean and to each other, and the mean is opposed to the extremes.”  And obviously, the further they are removed from each other, the greater the opposition between the two extremes.  Thus, though the generous man appears extravagant compared with the stingy man, the same generous man also appears stingy compared with the spendthrift.  The result is that both the stingy one and the spendthrift will denounce the mean, he who is moderate, and will denounce his extreme as vile and evil.  Yet, neither the spendthrift nor the stingy are good.    This is good-ole fashioned Aristotelian logic.  And he’s right.

Balance is good.  Wise is the way of the Golden Mean.  We seemed to have lost sight of this significant truth.  We see this most especially in our politics and the various political causes that we champion.  Take any issue, any; for example, take ecology versus business: Tree huggers on the one side, seem to say that there is to be no digging, drilling, or cutting of any kind, anywhere, for whatever reason, “Save the earth!”  On the other hand, oil companies and big business corporations seem to be saying, “The earth’s resources are for our taking, so dig, cut, and drill baby drill.”

Everyone is forced to take extreme positions.  Every issue, every cause polarized to the most extreme position.  Whether we’re talking gun laws or abortion laws, addressing immigration worries or tax concerns, it’s always the same, extreme left or extreme right, make no allowances for anything in between, no balance, no middle ground, no “take what’s best from both sides.”  This is a vice.

Yes, of course, we need to drill because we need oil and gas.  But yes, we also need to protect the environment because we need clean drinkable water.  Yes, indeed, we need to curtail government spending.  But yes, we also need to have a just and fair tax system which adequately addresses unfair wealth accumulation.  Yes, we need THIS (right side), and yes, we need THAT (left side).  We need both.  We need the Golden Mean between the two extremes.

Why is it so difficult to find an appropriate balance?  Why is it so difficult for the one side to admit that the opposing side has some valid points to make?  Why must one feel as if he has betrayed his/her side simply for acknowledging that the other side is not all wrong or all bad?

The longer one lives the more one realizes that grey is the dominate color between black and white.  There are far fewer simplistic black and white choices in this world than we’d like to admit.  Sure, we’d love to simplify things and pretend that there is a simple, straightforward “this or that,” “up or down,” “yes or no” answer to many of the pressing questions and issues of the day: “We need oil and jobs?  Oh, well then, of course, let’s certainly drill.”  “Wait, we need clean drinking water?  Oh, then definitely stop all drilling!”  “We need investment security?  Well, certainly regulate the banking system,” and so-on and so-forth.  The fact is that none of our social-political challenges lend themselves to easy, one-sided solutions; if that is, we are looking for real solutions.

What we need is wisdom, insight, and comprehension.  What we’re getting is extreme presentations.  Yet, a sound rational mind knows that no one-side is always right and that no one-side is always best and that no one-side is always good.  Extremes are always bad.  What we need therefore is 3-D vision.  We need to see three dimensionally.  We need to see three sides to our abnormal two-sided debates.  We need depth of perception.  We need politicians who will take all sides into consideration and delineate a fine, balanced, and mean approach to our most challenging issues and platforms.

I know.  Wishful thinking, not going to happen!?  Yet, if we fail to reign in the extremes, we’re trouble.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter: An Historical Falsehood or a Pivotal Truth?

We, that is, we humans, humanity as a whole, cannot have it both ways.  Either there was or there was no resurrection.  Was Jesus literally and actually resurrected from the dead or was he not?  And yes, the answer to this question should make a huge difference to us.

If Jesus was NOT raised from the dead, Christianity is basically a falsehood at its core, and the Christian lacks any real substance for believing IN Jesus.  Sure, as a religion it may still serve a purpose for teaching morality and good citizenship, as much as any religion does: Do not lie, cheat or steal.  Do not covet your neighbor’s property.  Be kind, generous, and nice, and so-on and so-forth.  Nevertheless, Christianity did not spread like wildfire in the early centuries of this era because of its moral teachings.  Without a true resurrection, Christianity lacks real power, offering nothing more than an empty hope with a vacuous future.

Death and taxes, this is what’s real, injustice, misfortune, crime, hatred, racism, ethnic cleansings, natural disasters, hunger, thirst, war, famine, survival of the fittest.  The haves versus the have-nots, competition for limited resources, the rich getting richer, the misery of the destitute and the poor, disease and sickness, cancer, children dying before they’ve had a chance to live, pain, loss, suffering, and severe heartache, this is Truth.  If there is no resurrection and Jesus was not raised from the dead, then there is no real, substantial, life changing hope.  We die.  And that’s all there is to it.  So, “eat drink and be merry….”

Enter Jesus: Moral teacher, good man, great communicator, spiritual leader?  Yes, not unlike many great leaders of the world (think Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha, or the Dalai Lama).  Is that all?  “Well, yes, isn’t that enough?” one might say.  No, it is not.  Not, that is, if Jesus were really and truly raised from the dead.  If Jesus were actually raised, truly resurrected from the dead, that truth would put us on an altogether different playing field, a new level of “Truth and Consequences.”  And it is this claimed truth that Christianity is founded upon.

Eyewitnesses claimed as much: “He is Risen, come and see!”  Individuals and groups of individuals were killed and martyred, willingly gave up their lives—for making this claim: Jesus was put to death on a cross, died and was buried, and on the third day, was raised from the dead.  He is Risen!  Okay, so let’s ask.  If this were true, really, literally, matter-of-factly true, Jesus-raised-from-the-dead, what does it mean for humanity?  To say the least, it means everything!

It means that Jesus really is someone to reckon with.  It means Jesus’ words are to be taken quite seriously, more seriously than the most devout practitioner of his followers.  It means that what He said about God, himself, eternal life, future judgment, salvation and redemption, is all quite true.  It means that Jesus really is Lord, has power and authority over all humanity.  It means that He is alive even now.  He lives today, and we owe him.  We owe him our trust, faith, obedience, our very lives.  It means that someday we will be called upon to give account to Him.  But most importantly, it means there really is something better, beyond the misery and heartache of this life.  There is real hope.  It means that there is a truly substantial and eternal future IN Jesus.  It means that Jesus actually is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus Rocks!  Uh, I mean, Rules.  May His Kingdom come quickly!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Zimmerman’s Self-Defense Claim Just Doesn’t Add Up

What really happened?  I’m sorry but shooting Trayvon Martin in self-defense seems like an unsatisfactory explanation.  Based on the developing evidence and information that is being released to the public—something is not right.

First of all, it would seem that George Zimmerman is the one that was threatening Trayvon Martin not the other way around.  Obviously it was Zimmerman who had the gun, not Martin.  According to Martin’s last phone conversation, as I understand it, Martin is the one who felt fearful of Zimmerman.

It was Zimmerman who was taking the initiative, going after, following and pursuing Martin.  Martin, having done nothing wrong, apparently minding his own business, didn’t know the why or wherefore as to Zimmerman’s actions.  Thus, it was Martin who felt that he was being stalked, threaten by Zimmerman’s presence.  Remember, Martin was completely unarmed, Zimmerman had the gun.  Yet, Zimmerman makes it sound as if Martin was the one doing the threatening and thus justifies shooting Martin in so-called self-defense.  It doesn’t add up.

Did not Martin have the right to run and try to flee from someone who, from Martin’s point of view, seemed suspiciously dangerous.  Martin felt as if he were the one that was going to become a victim of a violent act.  (And, as it turns out, Martin was in fact correct in this fearful assumption).  Does this mean that Martin, who was innocent of any wrong doing up to the point of the altercation between him and Zimmerman, was not to try to defend and protect himself against whom (from his point of view) he believed to be a threatening presence ready to do him harm?  As it stands now, whatever actually happened between the two of them, we won’t ever really know because it’s now all one-sided, Zimmerman’s side.

So is it now the case in these here United States of America that a person like Zimmerman can (1) carry a loaded gun and (2) threateningly follow and pursue anyone he believes to be suspicious and then (3) chase and proactively threaten the so-called “suspect” without due cause, other than mere subjective suspicions and then (4) shoot and kill the “suspect” when the suspect tries to flee and/or to confront and defend himself, all the while having no idea why he (the so-called “suspect”) is being chased, followed, pursued and threatened by a mysterious man (with a gun)?  It’s just too one sided, too subjectively self-justifying, and too wide-of-the-mark in terms of due process, civil protection, and civil rights.

Zimmerman basically appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner over Martin.  Zimmerman assumed that he had all the rights, privileges, and power in his hands and Martin had none.  And apparently, given that Zimmerman has not been arrested to date, and has not been called upon to give account for his actions in a court of law, Zimmerman was correct in this assumption.  This is not the American way and it does not bode well for a land that prides itself in being a land of freedom and justice that is supposedly upheld by the rule of law.

Zimmerman effectively performed a summary execution against Martin, without trial.  Furthermore it has the flavor of racial discrimination.  Would Zimmerman have acted as he did if Martin was white?  Many think not, this despite the fact that Zimmerman himself also belongs to a minority group, being Hispanic.

As an outside observer, I have to wonder.  Why did the police so quickly defend and protect Zimmerman’s actions rather than hold him accountable for shooting an unarmed man in the streets?  Many officers in uniform around the nation would have been officially and strictly required to give a substantial and justifiable account for this kind of action whereas Zimmerman thus far seems to escape any real official accountability for his actions.

Secondly, at the time of the incident why did the police not immediately follow basic law-enforcement procedure and collect the necessary detailed evidence required—either to (1) invalidate or (2) substantiate Zimmerman’s claims and actions?  Either way one looks at this, this was a crime scene, was it not?  Zimmerman himself says that he was following Martin because he had reason to believe that Martin was either engaged-in or had already committed some kind of criminal activity.  As such, the whole incident should have called for proper criminal investigation, should it not?

Apparently we are all simply to take Zimmerman at his word, as to what “went down.”  This is a new low-level denominator for our law-enforcement and judicial procedures here in the United States of America?