Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ethical Training

It has been a challenging week around here.  Dad received some upsetting news and although we won’t talk specifically about it, I want to talk about how he is handling it. 

My Dad’s parents seemed to be extremely patient individuals, even-mannered as well.  That’s not to say they didn’t get upset or emotional. I recall a few times when Grandma or Grandpa would get upset about certain issues.  But they had a unique ability to turn even the most negative experiences in to something positive.  They were masters at extrapolating goodness from almost any scenario.  I learned that ability from them and from my father and his brother, my Uncle.  It is this same character that Dad is now emulating in his response to something that would get most people riled up and ready for war.  He spoke to me of his initial response which was to cut off all persons associated with this news and move on.  Then he decided to not discuss the issue unless it is brought up – at which time the associated person(s) would meet a consequence of rather huge proportion.  Dad would cut them off completely.

I am proud of my Dad for his response even as I struggle with my response.  In his wise words he said to me, “We know the truth”.  Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”   Both Mom and Dad taught me that there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  It is only when both sides understand this that true reconciliation can occur.  It comes down to making positive ethical choices.

There are two ways to think about individual ethical decision making—the prescriptive approach and the descriptive approach.  The prescriptive approach is the way we think about making those ethical choices in life.  Descriptive approach offers decision-making tools that prescribe your decision based on your moral agent.  It asks the thinker to carefully consider and get the most out of our ethical decision.  The descriptive approach is a little less perfect in nature in that the choices are typically made with cognitive biases that usually keep us from making the best decisions.  Most decisions that are ethical in nature are relatively easy to make because we have a built-in system of what is right vs. wrong.  The issue is when you have to choose between two alternatives that are equally distasteful.  Its difficulty lies in the fact that there are several important rights or values or even obligations to consider and sometimes you may feel like you are caught in a no-win situation.

My father taught me an amazing tool to make ethical decisions.  When faced with a difficult decision that is descriptive in nature, simply take a piece of paper with a line down the middle.  Choose a decision and write that on the top of the paper.  On one side write all the positive consequences and negative ones, write on the other side.  Do this for each possible decision.  It will outline and give you a visual understanding of the situation and will help you make the best, intelligent, moral-centered decision.  It has worked wonderfully for me over the years.

My father is an amazing man with a capacity to love beyond words.  His love for mom continues to this day and is a vital part of his day-to-day activities.  His love is based on what is morally right in his heart and head.  He carefully weighs every decision and has rarely been known to make sudden and not thought-through decisions (although I’m told that in his youth that was not the case).  He also taught us to carefully weigh the consequences of every single action we make.  His way of saying it was this:  “Don’t ever do something you would not want to be caught dead doing”.  When you think about it, that’s a pretty powerful description.  We read about movie stars who die doing things they really didn’t want us knowing they did.  It completely taints their image and forever rules any publicity.  David Carradine – case in point.

So this week many of us in our immediate family were called upon, involuntarily, to make a tough ethical decision.  Each of us will make our own decision based on our biases, experiences, wants, needs and desires.  We make them based on our understanding of situations and our foresight of consequences.  Some of us will follow Dad’s lead while others may not make the same decision will still base it on the many lessons we have learned from this amazing man of character and faith.

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