Ethics: the way to personal power (1)

The lives of others

As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.” – William Blake

As a child, it always seemed to me that people who spoke of morality were trying to impose rules on lives they knew nothing about.

I would hear not only that I should behave in a certain way, but that we all should. It used to be a favourite sport of mine to unveil behaviour among such proponents of morality (usually teachers or writers of children’s books), that would contradict their own edicts.
To me there was something intrinsically unpalatable about morality as it was served to me; the idea that someone who didn’t know or understand me would know what was best for me just seemed too much of an imposition. I felt that as a child I was powerless to resist the fixed idea that most grown-ups seemed to share: that children are put into the world to be patronised.

Then I myself grew up. Morality was no longer preached to me to nearly the same extent; it was assumed that I would have internalised it by now. And indeed I had, to a very great extent. To my own detriment, I might add.

Dear reader, please note that I am writing about myself to bring you closer to me, to allow you to see parallels between the process of your own mental configuration and mine, without me imposing my conclusions on you. Please note that as I write about myself it is You I am attempting to reach.

The idea I am trying to expound is that morality – the values of others – is imposed upon us, and that we grow up taking certain behaviours for granted while rejecting others as unacceptable. And then we wake up one day to find that we are practising those very behaviours that we reject.

Our explanation in such cases must be that the behaviour in question is generally unacceptable, but that in this special case it is understandable or perhaps even necessary. However, such explanations always feel unsatisfactory; we mumble them to ourselves and perhaps to others, but we have a feeling that they will petrify and crack if exposed to the full light of day.

In other words, such double-standard explanations make us afraid of the light, afraid of the truth. They make us creep about, uncomfortably aware of our own shadow, and it just won’t go away. In short, they make us weak and divided. That is not the way to personal power.

So what is?

For the answer to this question and more, please see the next installment.

1 thought on “Ethics: the way to personal power (1)

  1. This is so true – we have double standards and the scary part is that we often don’t realize we do. Sometimes I have this elusive feeling that what I’m doing is right only if one looks at it through a thick glass of my own excuses, but it can be extremely hard to get rid of the glass as it is inside me.

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