Re: Moral

A society’s culture is rooted in morals. What we think is proper etiquette or acceptable behaviour is a guide for how we spend our time as citizens. Over a lifetime, some things that may have been considered immoral are found to be, by consensus, quite acceptable. Governments are elected on the basis of these perceived morals. When I vote I mark the ballot thinking, “This is the way I wish my culture to be.” That vote comes with trust that the politician will live up to the platform that was presented. I look for leaders who exhibit moral behaviour. I’m wary of crafty candidates who can sound like a moralist, spouting the short-comings of his/her opponent, then once in office backtrack on some of those do-rights.

I grew up enjoying Aesop’s Fables. Usually these tales told of animals or humans learning or teaching lessons of life by their actions or misadventures. My memory of these stories is like a warming blanket. I hear patient voices describing the scenes and questioning me about the outcome. Sometimes I recall being asked if I could guess the moral of the story. The fable that has been most influential for me is what I call the ‘sour grapes’ story. It quickly comes to mind when I have a desire, like the fox, that cannot be fulfilled.

Speaking of stories: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ has a female protagonist who grows up in a marsh. She is a natural part of the marsh, as though the biome was her mother. In the story a death occurs. Murder is suspected. One of my moral principles is that murder is wrong, yet in nature we see examples of it all the time. This beautifully written novel compelled me to examine this particular aspect of morality. I found myself wondering about the difference between immorality and amorality. Does a soldier have to suspend his/her morality when they go to war? Is war itself an immoral act of desperation to protect one’s home or culture? Is a suicide bomber or kamikaze pilot justified if it’s for a moral cause?

Talking about or teaching morals is not exclusive to educators, elders or religious folk. Most of us shy away from sounding preachy when in public. Sometimes the Letters to the Editor section of magazines and newspapers reveal moralists who are primarily making themselves feel virtuous by calling out others for impropriety. Michelle Obama, referring to the slanderous nature of political rhetoric, famously said, “When they go low, we go high.”

A strange burst of behaviour was noted recently in some countries near the Red Sea. Adults there were choosing to drink beverages out of baby bottles, perhaps seeking comfort in unsettling Covid times.  Authorities throughout the region quickly used vague laws to stamp out what they referred to as public immorality and indecency. It was said that these practises “violate Bahraini customs and traditions.” Cultures are dependant, it would seem, on the principle that what is acceptable for one, must be considered moral for all.

Re: Principle

In grade school I remember being taught how to distinguish between the words principle and principal as a spelling lesson. Your school principal, presumably, was your ‘pal’. The other word was never clearly defined. Like so many things that one comes to learn, the use of the word Principle and its practical applications, depended on my gathering experience.

I remember being advised early on that to be ‘a man of principle’ was something to work towards. My mother would note when I was being ‘too wishy washy’ and suggest that I select a priority and ‘stick to it’. My father would provide examples of principled behaviour by focussing on completing a task before starting another. Coaches would intone that, ‘winning wasn’t everything’ and you must show good sportsmanship above all else. Teachers would insist on adherence to the principles of hard work, determination and following your dream.

My formal education regularly consisted of studying examples of individuals who never gave up no matter how hard the challenge. I was taught to show admiration for these achievers from history: The explorers who set forth to map our globe. The generals who vanquished the enemy. The politicians who created great nations. The scientists who unlocked the mysteries of our physical world. The artists who challenged our perceptions. The philosophers who provided the keys to help us understand ourselves.

It was only as I matured that I realized many of these men and women of principle had personal flaws. It was a jolt to my psyche to find out they were drinkers, womanizers, gamblers, racists, or just people with terrible party manners. Norman Bethune, as one example, has been revered as a man who followed his principles of justice, peace & unity for humanity. His personal life however was a shambles of sexual affairs, rude social scenes and arrogant social discourse. The authors of the biography ‘Phoenix’ suggest that Dr. Bethune’s ‘black sheep’ persona was politically manipulated on his death to create a ‘white knight’ iconography.

“It’s the Principle of the thing” is something I’ve often said or thought as I have waded into an argument. I’ve found that sticking exclusively to a principle can restrict my ability to listen effectively and yet I still feel the need to ‘stick to my guns’; which is a violently dramatic and threatening representation of what being rigid with principles might lead one to.

One of my favourite principled individuals of modern times is Noam Chomsky. He’s one of few people who dare to venture into the land of principles/morals/values these days. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-OEEC5FpJ0

When I listen to the wisdom of his words I feel anchored by the truth. I saw this request from his wife Valeria on my Twitter feed and will pass it on: 
@johannhari101 -It’s Noam Chomsky’s 90th birthday soon (Dec 7). I’m helping his wife, Valeria, gather tributes to him for a birthday book. If Chomsky’s work has affected you, pls write a message addressed to him explaining how & send to chasingthescream@gmail.com

Re: Matter

The study of physics tells us that Matter is what makes the universe and all things in it, including us. The atomic particles that were first born of the Big Bang are part of our being.

We are made of matter yet how do we decide what matters to us? That comes from an examination of our values. What we care about and who we care for is fundamental to our existence. I have a need to understand what matters in the present context and then I set about prioritizing things accordingly.

What matters to you is totally up to you. It may relate to what you decide to eat, to wear, to read, to say, to own, to binge watch, or to march for. You can hand over this task to governments, to churches, to teachers or to neighbours but until you make your values matter to you personally you might find your self adrift in uncertainty. Determining what matters is what creates the uniqueness that is you.

My late wife took several courses on Philosophy and each time she came back from a lecture at the university where we met, she swore she was going to live the way she had just been taught. She had seen the light. She was raised in a church going family. Her religious convictions sometimes coincided and sometimes conflicted with her intellectual nature. We had some great discussions. From the content of her classes and these debates we drew closer to a philosophy of life that was consistent with our unity as a couple. We made plans using these discovered values to embark on the adventures of life.

Matter’s opposite is anti-matter. Does that fact suggest that, philosophically, everything matters and nothing matters concurrently? I’ve enjoyed examining the yin/yang nature of life. There are a lot of isms to ponder. Existentialism, we exist but why? Nihilism is too pessimistic for me. I have spent way too much time in my life trying to answer the why questions. I prefer now to seek out the how of living. That puts me leaning more towards a Zen way of thinking, if I am correct in that interpretation. I want to be more presently focussed so that I can understand what matters now.

The song Bohemian Rhapsody by poet Freddy Mercury, has meant different things to me since I first heard it. I often hum the ‘nothing really matters’ part to myself when I have no control over a situation. It helps me to detach from any outcome. Head banging aside, I find peace.

I wish to resist labels for myself and others. If you build your self concept by picking and choosing from the philosophical tree, so be it! That doesn’t make you wishy washy. More likely you will feel well rounded, not boxed in by a particular way. I don’t believe anyone has found THE WAY.

Being devoted to the creation that is you is not selfishness. You are showing respect for what matters.