July 29th, 2010

From Cam Mosher

I had a great discussion with my son yesterday.  He is a businessman in his forties.  It is good when my kids give me good counsel.  That suggests that I did reasonably OK in raising them!

He told me there are two kinds of people in the world, those who put the shopping carts away in the return racks, and those who leave them out in the parking lot.  Hmmm.  I took a look inside and realized I am a fence sitter.  Sometimes I put them away when it is convenient (i.e. the rack is close, or the weather is good).  And sometimes I leave them between the cars or push the front wheels of the cart over a nearby curb.  It got me to thinking about a table game we used to play when my family was young called Scruples

Scruples provides cards with moral or ethical situations and asks players to decide YES, NO, or DEPENDS on each situation.  YES and NO require clear moral compasses.  DEPENDS is that place on the fence.  Sometime DEPENDS seems necessary, but it does allow wiggle room for stuff like convenience or the weather.  Actually playing the game is way less important than using those cards to have a great family discussion on the issues involved and learning together that taking a stand on moral and ethical issues requires some internal preparation.  What would happen to the Problems of the World if we did a better job of teaching our kids about moral compasses and all of us did some introspection along the lines of Scruples?

My son got me to thinking, not only about myself, but about the world, and about what my blog is all about.  I take issue with the world and people not having a clear moral and ethical compass.  Yet I realized that my own compass is not clear on every issue.  Regarding the shopping cart issue my son raised, I realized that I have lived “DEPENDS.”  That is a sad introspection.  It actually caused me to make a new decision that on that issue:  I will from now on say YES!  At least my shopping cart will not be left for someone else to put in the rack or for the store attendants to have to gather from all over the lot!  Convenience?  Weather?  No matter!

Putting the shopping cart away, stopping on a yellow light, being honest in our dealings, obeying laws that make living in community better for all, being thoughtful and kind, these behaviors are the rent we pay for the space we occupy on the planet!

Looking deeper at this issue, why do we take a stand on any moral or ethical issue?  What is the motive that drives us?  Is it because we fear the disapproval of others, or of God?  Not go to Hell?  Is it because we want to impress others, or impress God?  Do we want acknowledgment or a reward of some kind?  Go to Heaven?   When I was a boy of maybe 8 or 9, my father sat me down and taught me a lesson.  I don’t remember the specifics of very many of the lessons he taught me, but this one was riveted into my memory so powerfully that I remember his exact words, these many decades later.  He said, “Cameron, people ought to live good, not because they want to go to Heaven, but because it is the way to live!” And that was indeed the way he lived.

So among the people who behave a certain “good” way, there are different motives regarding that behavior.  One group does it because they fear punishment, from society or from God.  Another group does it because they want to impress others or get approval from others or from God and maybe get brownie points with neighbors or in Heaven; they do for the reward.  Others do it because it is simply the way to live.  Acting “good” for external reasons, or for internal reasons.  The same behavior, different motives.

I suppose the result of living “good” is the same, regardless of the motive.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  My father lived by an internal motivation; he was not particularly focused on pleasing God.  I tend to ascribe a higher value to internally-driven motives over externally-driven ones.  For example, honesty to keep God’s Commandments has a lower value to me than honesty for its own sake simply because it is the way to live.  So when my son posed that question to me and I had to introspect, I realized that part of my rent for my place on the planet included even putting the shopping carts in the rack!  Not because I want anyone to see me, or God to approve of my action, but simply because it makes the world a bit easier for all of us to live in community together.

We might start Solving the Problems of the World by looking at how we live at this level of detail, and make some clear decisions about our own moral and ethical compasses, take some clear stands to behave in these simple ways that work in community, that make living together easier for all of us.  That is the least of our rent for our own individual spaces in the world.

You have to decide.  Of the two kinds of people in the world (on any issue!), what kind of person are you?

Cam Mosher

One Response to “TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE”

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