Tuesday, 17 August 2010

day 7: ethics

one of the advantages of examining my privilege is that it makes me aware of issues, and helps me to be more inclusive. more inclusive in the language i use for example, or more inclusive when i organise an event - making sure there are interpreters if required, ensuring that there is a decent vegetarian option, making sure that we include a mihi or waiata at the beginning or a more formal maori welcome if that is appropriate. it's the little touches that make people feel welcome, and feel a part of what you're doing. it helps to build that sense of community and belonging, of shared values and respect.

of course i don't always get it right. there are some things i won't think of or won't understand because i haven't lived the experience of others so am not aware of what issues they face. what helps me at those times is to listen to what people tell me, to try to understand their valid criticisms and re-examine my own perspective, instead of getting defensive. and i'll only be able to truly listen and learn when i accept and own my privilege.

the topic for today is around issues of faith, morality and conscience. it has been a particularly difficult one to frame and to articulate with me. i went with the heading "ethics" because it seemed to be more inclusive than yesterday's attempt, and yet it doesn't quite cover some of the aspects i want to raise. nor do i think that these issues are necessarily ones of privilege, though i suppose they could be in some instances. i think they are things i'm just grateful for.

so let me start with faith. this isn't the practical aspect of religion that i discussed yesterday. rather, it's an internal belief system that no-one can take away from me. my faith gives me strength and resilience, through the practical act of prayer but also through the knowledge that there is a God, an entity out there who is on my side. God to me is full of mercy, compassion, forgiveness and understanding. what i know and understand of God gives me comfort and somewhere to turn when things get overwhelming.

having faith can certainly lead to an arrogance or smugness, and i've seen it with many people who are immersed in religion. the have an overwhelming sense of their own goodness and the unworthiness of others who don't measure up to their own high standards. the fact that they themselves don't often measure up to those standards seems to escape them. or the fact that so much of what they do, while seeming to be very good, is really just for show and so not sincere.

it can also mean that those with faith look at the "godless" or atheists with contempt or pity. obviously i follow my faith because i think it's the right one, and i'd love for other people to discover it and share it with me. but i believe i have to respect them even if they don't - i have to respect their humanity, their intelligence, their autonomy. that goes for everyone who doesn't believe exactly what i believe, even the wide range of diverse views within the muslim community. after all, if my way is the correct way, then i should be able to convince everyone of that. the fact that i haven't convinced them means there is a deficiency in me, not in other people.

my faith also provides me with boundaries and values which helps me make decisions in how to live my life. i find that really helpful, in the sense that it makes it easier for me to resist things. so i don't drink alcohol or take drugs or gamble, and i don't have to think about it in each instance when i'm presented with these things. it's just a simple and concrete notion in my mind that such and such a thing is against my religion so i'm not going to do it.

which is not to say that people can't have values or make moral judgements if they don't follow a religion or follow one that is different to mine. i believe that all humans have a natural tendency to behave well. all i'm saying is that my faith helps me in this regard.

i'm thankful for my sense of right and wrong, for the fact that i have a conscience and that i'm able to make moral judgements. possibly not a popular thing to say these days, seeing as how morality is often seen as a bad thing. but it's my morality, my ethics, that stop me from saying hurtful things, from stealing or cheating, and so on. it's ethics that makes me buy free-range eggs or support particular causes. and i'm grateful for all of that.

however, i do accept that making moral judgements about others can be quite dicey. until you know fully their motivations, their history, their current circumstances, you can't actually be sure that the thing you're judging is actually wrong. is it wrong for a destitute person to steal or for someone to kill in self-defence? circumstances are everything, and that's what we have a justice system for: so that all those circumstances are examined and the outcome reflects that.

it is my sense of ethics that prompts to me to be aware of social justice issues and to work on various causes, depending on the energy levels i have. it's what prompts me to blog, in order to raise awareness about various issues of importance to me. it's what ensures that i pass on values to my children and teach them the importance of assessing their own actions, ensuring that they behave in the best way possible. remembering also the importance of forgiving oneself for one's faults as well as forgiving others and seeking forgiveness when you've stuffed up.

i accept that my values and ethics need constant re-evaluation, particularly in light of information or ideas that i hadn't previously been exposed to or situations i hadn't thought of.

since all of these issues are pretty much personal to me and my own beliefs, i'm finding it hard to suggest any positive actions other than reading and discussion around ethics and ethical issues. but i will spare a thought for those who have been judged harshly and unfairly by others, and those who judge themselves harshly. my thoughts and prayers are with you.


Deborah said...

I'm getting so much out of these posts, anjum.

I've taught a few ethics workshops in the last few years, and it's always a challenge to give some useful tools to people who probably don't have any other training in formal ethics. One of the things I aim to do is to get people to recognise that ethics is hard, that there are very few black and white answers, if only because most situations are very nuanced. People are usually clear that stealing is wrong, until they start to worry about people stealing to feed their children, or what to do about a son or daughter who is caught stealing, or how to manage a relationship with a neighbour who is known to receive stolen goods... I count it as a successful day if I get them to realise that ethics is complicated, and it takes careful thinking, and then, reflection on decisions taken, and whether they were right or wrong, and why.

It's complicated.

stargazer said...

thanx deborah. sure is complicated. i've found that most of the posts have come pretty easily to me, but as i said in the post, this one was extremely difficult to write.

i'd love for ethics to be more widely taught. unfortunately the curriculum and school day is already so full that there's hardly room for anything else. but i would so much rather my children learned about the stuff you teach than about multiplying fractions, for example. the latter they can pick when they need to, but the former really requires conscious deliberation.