Morality is paper thin

At their young ages, we tell children that it is not proper to lie. They behave accordingly until they grow up and find out the benefits of being truthful on their own. Then they share the norm with their children and this continues through generations. Nowhere can one find a precise definition of lie or truth. It is all subjective. Yet, every one conditioned by their morality instinctively knows the difference between the truth and lie. This knowledge comes from within. No amount of writing or codification can replace this intense and personal knowledge on matters of morality — like the difference between truth and lie.

We cheat occasionally, and bend the truth. Over a period such occasional excursions and deviations from truth become the accepted norm. Some pay  heavy price for the small gains of others. But, all of us as a society pay a price, but life goes on. In due course the price of untruth becomes too high. Then communities define and promulgate laws to uphold the truth. One law and its simplicity are not adequate. Hence a collection of laws evolve and along with them a justice system with lawyers and judges to implement and administer the laws. Yet, there are always lingering questions of truth and untruth and the society struggles. The nature of truth comes from within. It is the soul of the individual, society or community. It is the moral fiber that weaves the fabric of any civilized society.

Besides the truth that we are willing to standby, we also take vows that we promise to uphold. These can be the vows to care for the children, young, elderly and women and each other. There can be vows of marriage or the promise to uphold and defend the professional ethics. The vows we take grow and multiply as our role as leaders in the society increase. Under the weight of all these vows we struggle. It seems OK to slip up occasionally on a vow here or a promise there. Eloquence and arguments come in handy to defend our position when we choose to ignore the rules or violate our vows. They reach a crescendo when President Nixon famously said, “It is the right thing to do, if the President said so”! Yet, there is an inner voice, the moral compass that is always telling us the difference between being honest (and keeping our vows) and being dishonest (or violating our vows).

Our behavior as individuals extends to the behavior of the community, which may be local, national or global in scope. On occasions Nations (and their leaders) lie or bend the truth just as individuals do. Nations violate their vows just as individuals do. But in due course such deviations in the past, weaken the moral fiber of the nation in the present and ultimately its ability to make critical decisions at the crucial moments in the future.

Precisely how we uphold morality always starts as an individual decision. But, in due course it evolves into a mosaic that holds the social unit – the family, community, nation or the humanity at large – together.  Morality represents the social conscience and hence a compass that serves well for the society at large. Yet, morality has no force on its own, since its enforcement power comes from something invisible and intangible (i.e.) the soul or conscience of all of us as individuals  as part of the society or community. It is like a sheet of paper. When it is whole it serves many purposes. But, when it is ripped or torn, it is merely cast aside into a pile of waste.

Today, the nation and indeed the world community weighs in on an immense issue of breaking and tearing away of morality. Use of any weapon that harms children, elderly and unarmed civilians is a moral breach on its own accord. The world has been witness to such breaches increasingly across the globe.  To witness the use of chemical weapons to such ghastly end is a moral rupture of indescribable proportion. To suggest that it has been used in a civil war, where well over 100,000 have perished and it is another weapon of war, indeed exhibits the lowest level of tolerance that the humanity has reached in its downward spiral in our worn and rupturing fabric of morality.

It is often easy to fall behind the wisdom of the three wise monkeys: “See no evil; Speak no evil; Hear no evil”. In fact much of the rupture and degeneration of the moral fiber starts with this seemingly moral position. Yet inaction, when action is required is also a moral failing as we know well from the scriptures.

Inaction – the wisdom of three monkeys (hear, see or speak no evil) – may be a moral failing when action is indeed required.

What should be done as a consequence and as a response to such heinous crimes? The answers may not be simple or easy. But if there is a time to remember that morality is paper thin, this might be one such moment.

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3 Responses to Morality is paper thin

  1. Raji says:

    Sathyameva Jayathe!
    It is a nice article!!


  2. Ram says:

    1000 were killed using chemical weapons on 8/21. Yes, it is bad. But before that 100K+ were killed by other means. Countless more were hurt. 2 million refugees. Why respond only now?
    Also, one nuclear weapon can not only kill today but for a century to come. What right does any country have, in order to possess such ghastly nuclear weapons?
    Bottom line: one must practice first what we plan to preach others. So called “Leadership” must be earned by respect, not because of one’s material possession or based on a self-perceived notion/status.


  3. Pingback: Moral outrage needed in the face of cold blooded attack on neighbor? | Spirituality In Practice

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