Has anyone seen the moral compass?

April 03, 2007 by barbara

by barbara

LeftyMN sent a link this morning to an interesting post by someone named Bob Ryan. I had two reactions. Wow! (and) I wish I were smart enough to think so deeply that the end result would be profound in its simplicity. Turns out that Iceland could serve as a moral model for the United States. Ryan's post says their national philosophy can be summarized in four points: Turn the page.

(1)The healthy help those who are ill.
(2) The employed help those who are unemployed.
(3) The young help the old.
(4) The rich help the poor.

How's that for a mission statement? Part of the reason the United States is now a rudderless craft, it seems to me, is that for six years, we have sailed using a faux moral compass, interpreted to us by bloviating theocons trumpeting moral values that are essentially empty slogans. More insidious than Groundhog Day, it's been "1984," over and over and over again. We must be up to at least 11,904 by now.

It seems to me that this four-point philosophy holds up well alongside the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, that old secular standard-bearer, FDR, and likely countless others. Having been raised in the Christian tradition, it is reminiscent to me of the Sermon on the Mount, which is a fairly inclusive roadmap for human decency.

Ryan's piece is based on the work of Tor Dahl, a productivity expert. So Dahl's slant is toward organizations. It would be a stretch to say that the U.S. government approaches anything even remotely close to organization. Even so, the four points are relevant to nations. Or should be. Ryan goes on to say:

The four points bring to mind ethical concepts connected to compassion, justice, fairness, redistribution of wealth, The Golden Rule, etc. But one idea that is not often connected to ethics is "practicality." And yet a country (or city or company or family) that practices the four points would be demonstrating practicality. Is practicality an ethical concept? I would argue that it certainly is, at least in this case.

For an organization to find a practical, effective, cost-efficient method of caring for all its members is to declare a moral imperative. Such an organization challenges its members to give back what they have been given - health, jobs, money and the benefits of youth. Such an organization creates a channel through which wellness in its broadest definition is delivered to all. Such an organization publicly affirms the intrinsic value of all of its members. Such an organization demonstrates its beliefs in action.

I read elsewhere this morning that in Anbar Province, Lance Cpl. Daniel Olsen, age 20, was shot in the back, the victim of small arms fire, whereupon he died. Olsen lived in my community. We have lost one of our own, added to the huge and growing number of others. Tragic. Twenty years old. Poof! Extinguished.

Which makes me wonder if the four points might be expanded to five, and begin with: First, do no harm.

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perhansa (not verified) | April 3, 2007 - 1:08pm

Ryan's theory and Susan's post yesterday have both left me with a nagging melancholy. Maybe its the weather. Maybe I shouldn't have gotten up this morning. Maybe I'm feeling like a story I heard a long time ago about people riding on a train and they decide they don't like the direction that the train is headed so they all move to the left side of the train. But the train keeps going down the same track. So they all move to the right side of the train. But the train keeps moving down the same track. So they start dividing up and moving, some to the right and some to the left and some standing in the aisle. But the train keeps on keeping on down the same damn track. The point of the story was to talk about visionary leadership. Visionary leadership requires people to get off the train and lay down new track. If we don't like the direction we're headed, sifting back and forth and standing in the middle ain't goin' to get us anywhere but down the same track. The challenge is: how to get off the train and decide on a new direction. If you boil all the Bush arguments and objections and strategies down in a boiling pot they all come out to be the same underneath. FEAR. We should be AFRAID. We should stay on the train, shut up, and trust the conductor. And, they have been successful--progressives haven't. FEAR is a damn powerful motivator and inhibitor to action. Its not just fight or flight, there's also freeze. We're frozen. Stuck. Locked on the train. Pissing and moaning about which side to be on. Where are the visionaries? We have to find an emotion stronger than fear. WHat is it? Hope? Too passive. Anger and indignation? Too negative. Faith? Too ungrounded and unreasonable. Reverence? Pride? Determination? I don't know yet. Progressive means progress, change, evolution, vision. Conservative means, stasis, status quo, or worse yet, the reinstitution of some bygone golden age that was never really all that golden. We have to have a vision that is emotionally compelling and intellectually sound or the game is over. Eat. Drink. And be merry for soon we die. The past can help us not make the same mistakes but the future is tomorrow and it doesn't exist. We have to make it up, today. There was a great program on NPR today with a biologist talking about disease and infection. He argued that we need to get more artists and creative thinkers involved in policy besides the experts who can only see things in the framework of their discipline. He talked about how he saw that using a term like "war" on disease even limited what he saw in the evidence in front of him. Metaphors shape the very information coming into our minds and the thoughts that arise after. Got to run--late for a meeting, but I want off the train. Anybody else? Know any visionaries?


perhansa (not verified) | April 3, 2007 - 5:02pm

My wife used to be married to a man she says was a lot like our Prez. She said he suffered from "little man syndrome." When things didn't go his way or he didn't get what he wanted he'd roar around half the night stomping his feet, threatening, warning, arguing, everything he could to try and get her to give in through fear and intimidation. Eventually, she divorced him. And she heard later he was still doing the same thing (surprise) to his new romantic interest. Listening to excerpts of W today made me think again about "little man syndrome." He has no real power. He takes no accountability. He points. He blames. He roars. He stomps. And he begins to look more pathetic by the day. Sad, sad little man. David James Duncan talks about what a travesty it is to use the term "christian" to lump together such a broad spectrum of people as Julian of Norwich, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Simone Weil, Joan of Arc, Meister Eckhart, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, George Bush, Pat Roberston, James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell. It makes "christian" about as meaningful as "carbon based life form". Being an ex-christian I suppose I have no call to point this out. But if W, Robertson & their ilk are right, my friends in Hell will be the likes of Albert Einstein, Albert Scwietzer (sp), Jefferson, Galileo, Lincoln, Gandhi, Siddhartha, Laotsu, the Dali Lama, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie and Heaven will be overflowing with the Falwells, Haggards, Dobsons, LaHayes, and Tami Fayes of the world. Little man syndrome en masse...FEAR FEAR FEAR FEAR. No more FEAR. Sorry. I'm moving on to something new. Compassion. Awe. Reverence. Wonder. Empathy. Courage. Truth. Reality. Accountability...my loins will soon look like Guy Pierce's body in Memento. Your list is a nice start Barbara. Maybe we have a chance if we stop fighting for belief and start creating a new vision. Imagine...maybe John Lennon was right? Artists are some freakin weird people...