Do you know Right from Wrong?Anja van Kralingen
During my anthroposophy class we discussed the concept of personal ethics. In Anthroposophy it is quite specific, in the sense that you need to act out of a position of love, which is selfless and has the other’s best interest at heart. Ok, this is an ideal that is obviously REALLY hard to achieve, but the bottom line is that your personal ethics have to act as the foundation of your psyche. Your intentions and decisions need to be rooted in personal ethics. (well at least that’s the Anthroposophical perspective)
Are ethics learnt?
What is interesting about personal ethics is that it is quite difficult to tell whether your ethics are personal or learnt. Of course your religion, community, family all instil certain ethics in you, but are those ethics really yours? Are they authentic to you? You know you shouldn’t commit adultery, because you have been taught that it is bad, but will that stop you? Here I would like to remind you of a specific religious leader (well known in SA) who had an affair and eventually left his wife. He was preaching all the moral ethics, but he himself did not follow them. Why? Is it enough to make a decision based on what you have been taught?
Another interesting question is whether you can consider yourself an adult if you are living your life according to ethics that you are parroting. I remember years ago working with a really young girl at ABSA who insisted that she could learn lessons about life from reading about it. I do not agree. You can’t possibly know what it is like to be drunk by reading what it is like in a book. Experience is the most powerful teacher. For example, I found out when I was 19 that Champagne and cheap red wine do NOT mix well. I definitely think that learning right from wrong is far more valuable when experienced.
Both Jung and Steiner believed that you have to go through something to overcome it. Steiner suggested that between the ages of 18 and 25, you fully emerge yourself in living.
I know of a few people who did not do this and then end up at 40 hitting the clubs, popping E and getting pathetic glances from the young adults sweating around them. Or they find themselves in a midlife crises and end up having an affair with a ‘really’ young person, or buying something ridiculous to distract themselves with. So getting it all out of your system in your 20’s is a really good idea. What I do know is that most of us, go wild during our early 20’s and come through the other side ok and richer for it. Of course there are a percentage of those young people, who do not survive the experience intact. If I think about my own children going wild and partying, it certainly is dreadfully scary. But it will happen!
But where do you draw the line?
Stephen and I had a really good friend years ago, and her approach was that she had no lines. (i.e. that she wouldn’t cross) She was about thirty when we met her and in an unhappy marriage. She wanted to experience it all. Well, needless to say things did not go well… I think that personal ethics are your lines. And you need to be very clear on what they are and that they are authentic to you, because I suspect that learnt ethics are not strong enough to be rooted in the psyche.
So how do you develop personal ethics?
Keeping with the example of the adultery. Can you honestly decide that you will not commit adultery unless you have experienced it? And do you have to actually do it yourself, or is it enough to be the victim of it in some way. I don’t think there is a straight forward answer to this. If your dad was a serious adulterer, and the impact of it devastated your family, does that stop you from behaving that way? I don’t think so. I know of a number of people who simply repeat their parents example. So what is it then that builds personal ethics?
I would hazard a guess that it is consciousness. Putting the searchlight of consciousness onto your behaviour will certainly force you (or if not force strongly encourage ) to make an ethical decision about it. Once you are aware of something about yourself, you have to either accept it (and approve of it) or oppose it. You can’t brush it under the carpet again. (of course you can, but that in itself is accepting the behaviour). In psychotherapy, ultimately what happens, is that the therapist guides you to consciousness.
Only in consciousness can you accept yourself, only in consciousness can you oppose yourself, and only in consciousness can you change yourself.
Until next time,