Is free-market capitalism unethical?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Free-market capitalism
Rana Plaza building

When things go badly wrong in the world of commerce, we ask about the ethics of free-market capitalism.

Dangerous cracks had been spotted in the walls of the Rana Plaza building — a factory complex in Bangladesh — but the staff had been ordered to continue working, making clothes for lucrative export to the West. Now over 900 people are dead in the ruins of the building which has collapsed. In the last eight years alone, more than 1,000 workers had died in similar incidents, owing to the negligence of factory owners.  The Bangladesh Government has failed to regulate the garment industry by enforcing proper safety standards.

Given this tragedy, we might wonder whether unregulated free-market capitalism is a good thing. How can its advocates be correct when they say that the profit motive, property rights, divisions of labour, and competition, actually lead to prosperity for all? Is it really the case that market regulation reduces the entrepreneurial spirit?

For free-market capitalism

Those in favour of free-market capitalism maintain that self-interested individuals would mostly engage in win-win transactions: self-interest is natural and beneficial in making untrammelled free markets work well.

“The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”
(Milton Friedman)

The pursuing of profits by self-interested companies competing in the market economy is said to cause trickle down benefits even to the poorest: thus an unintended consequence of individual gain is prosperity for all. And competitive markets are said to drive down prices and increase business efficiency.

Against free-market capitalism

If the biblical message about the love of money being the root of all evil is true, then perhaps maximising profits is undesirable. One can get carried away with free-market competition for the sake of making money. In 19th century America, a lot of people were against outlawing child labour, because to do so would be against the very foundations of a free market economy.

Free-market capitalism results in huge differences in wealth. For example according to Ha-Joon Chang:

“The top 10 per cent of the US population appropriated 91 per cent of income growth between 1989 and 2006, while the top 1 per cent took 59 per cent.”

One of the obvious recent social trends in Britain has been the huge and still widening gap between the poor and the rich. One can wonder whether even if free-market capitalism reduces the absolute level of poverty in a country, the gross inequality of relative poverty might lead to a divided rather than cohesive society.

Maximising profits

Writing nearly three centuries ago before the growth of free-market capitalism as we know it today, spiritual philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg, suggests it is not ethically wrong to make profits. How else can one provide for oneself, and one’s family?  Today, like the past, any business that focuses on turnover without profits does not survive.

However, Swedenborg says there is an important difference between on the one hand gaining profit through providing a commercial service and on the other hand exploiting customers to maximize profits.

For example the ethical cobbler charges customers what he thinks is fair and reasonable for his skill and labour and not necessarily the higher price that the market would bear. He needs to cover his costs and provide for the needs of himself and his family but his focus is on being of help to his community.

There is a central spiritual principle here. It is that all spiritual  life is the life of wanting what is useful. In other words the inner experience of deep happiness and contentment comes not from material gain but rather from being of service to others and enjoying their fellowship.

Working for oneself, one can adopt one’s own rules. However, economies of scale in production mean that large companies operate in large markets which are impersonal and traders operate anonymously. For instance, one might wonder about a manager’s attitude towards sales staff who fail to get the best price by only charging what they feel is a fair price rather than the highest possible price they can get away with. Companies have codes of ethics but we might ask whether the ethical issue of non-exploitation — something that  perhaps transcends common commercial practice — could be defined by companies whose investors expect the maximisation of profit.

In some parts of the world it is thought that capturing limited resources by greedy exploitation of the weak and uneducated means that many remain hungry and homeless.

‘There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed’, (Gandhi)

Moderating free-market capitalism

Here are a few suggestions that come to mind.

Curtailing privatisation of natural monopolies (e.g. water supplies) encouraging ownership by the population being served or strengthening the powers of regulators such as in Britain Ofgas, Ofgen etc.

Ensuring free competition by restricting the hike in prices that comes about as companies try to corner the market by forming cartels and restricting the company take-overs (e.g. in Britain by its Monopoly Commission)

Reducing the size and thus locality of savings banks along the lines of the previous mutual building societies before they were allowed to become private banks.

Encouraging local markets where business people draw income from activities in which they have some vestige of personal involvement. Admittedly, in the modern global, interconnected world, the ability to do this is limited.

Further developing markets in “Fair Trade” products.

Creating opportunities for share-ownership of companies. For example the John Lewis Partnership, which owns a chain of department stores and supermarkets, seems to have a good scheme; the company is owned by a trust on behalf of all its employees — known as Partners — who have a say in the running of the business and receive a share of annual profits, which is usually a significant addition to their salary.

Conclusion

Whilst the desires reflected in markets remain predominantly materialistic, I believe that an alternative economic pattern will be hard to grow. Therefore, it seems that the best ethical solution is for government not to de-regulate the markets but continue to exercise close control of health and safety, prevention of monopolies and ensuring there is fair competition.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on9th May 2013CategoriesEthics, Ethics & PoliticsTags, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Prolonging life — How far should we go?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Prolonging lifeWhen you are young prolonging life seems a great idea. But when you get old things seem a bit different.

Emily aged 85 went into hospital. Her home is a nursing care home. She cannot support her own weight and needs a hoist and wheelchair to get her to the toilet and dining room. She is able to sit in an armchair and watches television. She has several diseases necessitating a good deal of staff time and medication. These are Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her mood is okay and she is able to converse in a limited way with staff and her visitors.

Prolonging life of patients like Emily

However the quality of life changes when she gets a chest or urinary tract infection to which she is vulnerable. At these times she has breathing problems and becomes uncommunicative. These problems have resulted in several hospital admissions in recent months.  Only in hospital can adequate treatment be provided eg monitoring machines, scans, medical expertise on hand, adequate amounts of needed oxygen and so on. When in hospital at first she becomes agitated and more confused and then later fed up not being in her own room at the care home where she sees familiar faces.

The question arises: how many times should a very ill and infirm person near the end of life be given repeated inpatient episodes of hospital treatment. When is prolonging life inappropriate?

It used to be said that pneumonia was the old person’s friend because, although it resulted in death, it took away suffering caused by other serious ailments such as from advanced dementia, cancer, or kidney disease.

Even if physician assisted suicide and euthanasia are rejected, end-of-life care for elderly people with chronic diseases involves difficult clinical and ethical judgments. Such conditions won’t easily go away despite the best that medicine can offer. Palliative care means doctors and nurses do their best to reduce discomfort and pain and improve the quality of the patient’s life whether or not there is hope of a cure by other means.

Prolonging life within the context of professional ethics

Doctors and nurses practice within a framework of professional ethics for example principles of informed patient choice, maximising good, not causing harm, and providing what is thought the patient has a right to receive. All medical treatments involve risks and benefits. Health staff try to get the best balance between interventionist treatment that directly tackles disease and palliative care. These however have different goals and sometimes suggest opposing clinical plans.

Good end of life care means neither hastening death nor unnecessarily prolonging life. Unfortunately it seems that sometimes inevitably one of these consequences will result.

Should one decline to give emergency resuscitation to someone where no improvement in their suffering is likely to result from further living? Should hydration and nutrition not be forced via tubes into the body when the patient is unwilling to drink or eat? Should more effective higher levels of sedative be given to patients in pain although this increases the risk of death? This seems suspiciously like inappropriately prolonging life.

To my way of thinking, the trouble is health professionals are expected to try to cure us. Those health care staff practicing palliative care do not always receive support from family members, other healthcare professionals, or their social peers for their work to reduce suffering and follow patients’ wishes for end-of-life care.

Negative attitudes towards palliative care

N.E. Goldstein and colleagues did a survey and found that more than half of doctors who practice palliative care report that a patient’s family members, or another health care professional had characterized their work as being “euthanasia”, “murder”, or “killing” during the previous five years. And so I do wonder if inadvertently doctors err on the side of prolonging life unnecessarily for fear of being criticised for harming patients by not being interventionist.

They practice in a world where anxiety about death is common and where medicine cannot sanitize dying. Fear of death is pretty widespread and so no wonder it exerts a powerful effect on attitudes to end of life care. Does acceptance of death mean one is able to lean towards palliative care rather than towards interventionist treatment?

Psychological research has found that the fear of death is made up of a number of different fears. For example a study by James Diggory and Doreen Rothman found that the following are common fears about death in descending order of importance:

  • My death would cause grief to my relatives and friends
  • All my plans and projects would come to an end
  • The process of dying might be painful
  • I could no longer have any experiences
  • I would no longer be able to care for my dependents
  • I am afraid of what might happen to me if there is a life after death
  • I am afraid of what might happen to my body after death.

Understanding death

Emanuel Swedenborg has given a vivid account of life after death from his personal experiences in the eighteenth century. What he says is often echoed since in the accounts of mediums, those having near death experiences (NDE’s), and those receiving brief communications from the other side (ADC’s). All show a continuation of life similar to what we are familiar in the physical world, albeit in a world of spirit where one’s inner life of experience and character are more apparent.

There is plenty of information that can greatly reassure people if they would take the trouble to find out more. For example for ADC’s click here and for NDE’s click here.

Is difficulty in confronting attitudes to death in Western culture affecting the way hospitals actively treat elderly people with serious illness at the end of their useful life in the world?

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problem

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on29th November 2012CategoriesEthics, Ethics & LifeTags,, , , , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Euthanasia – good or bad?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

euthanasiaRecently one mother, Frances Inglis, has been jailed for life for murdering a son who was in a persistent vegetative state, and another mother, Kay Gilderdale was acquitted of the attempted murder of her daughter, whose suicide she assisted. What should we do about euthanasia done to relieve suffering? When the patient brings about his or her own death with the assistance of a physician, the term assisted suicide is often used instead.

Passive euthanasia entails the withholding of common treatments, such as antibiotics, necessary for the continuance of life. It can be misleading to use the term ‘euthanasia’ for the withholding of life-sustaining treatment or for the use of pain-relieving drugs which may also shorten life, because these may be both life choices if one seeks to enable a person to live as fully as possible even while dying. But active euthanasia is to choose death as an end, and that is a very different thing. It entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill and is the most controversial means.

Some religious people condemn euthanasia as wrong. However, many reach no final conclusion although seeing several relevant spiritual perspectives.

Should the individual choice of euthanasia be respected?

We each have a human faculty of freedom and rationality. We expect people to exercise these in applying their values to the circumstances they find themselves in. Defending the innocent is justified when we risk our life taking responsibility for others safety. And so it is argued perhaps we should likewise take responsibility for ending our own suffering.

But having a responsibility to choose between what is good and bad doesn’t make our wrong choices right. We may have the freedom to think as we please, but this does not mean we should do so if our desires are against ethics and spiritual values.

Swedenborg pointed out that our rational good sense is reduced when we are ill and in pain. We may think we are making our own free choices but actually these may be subtly influenced by unconscious factors. Some terminally ill people, some deeply depressed, do believe that their choice of death is for the good of others. ‘They will be better off without me; I am such a burden to them.’ There may be many reasons behind such statements. They are most often the words of someone with misjudged feelings of low self-worth.

It might be asked did not Captain Oates ‘choose death’ when he walked from Scott’s tent into the Antarctic blizzard. Yes, in a sense he did, but not as an end. He chose to act in the way he did knowing that it involved death, and accepting his death as a means when there was no alternative – to help the safety of his fellow human beings. ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). The distinction here is between intention and foresight. Oates foresaw his  death: death was not his choice.

Should one be allowed euthanasia to escape intolerable pain and loss of independence?

We can imagine a rare situation of extreme suffering, such as the soldier in the burning gun turret who cannot be rescued, and whose agonizing death is unavoidable, for whom it may be judged that a merciful bullet is a gesture of care.

Those who are aware of their ethical responsibilities may be sympathetic to the idea that to prolong life uselessly is to undermine the independent moral status of a person. This is where it seems that personal qualities of rationality, freedom, self-possession and responsibility have become inactive and not given any dignity.

On the other hand when rationality has been taken away by pain or brain damage, the patient’s competence to volunteer their informed consent for euthanasia can be difficult to determine or even define. Mercy killing without the patient’s volunteering for this is even more controversial a step. The public’s trust in doctors’ and nurses’ duty to preserve life would be undermined if they were allowed to assist in mercy killing.

It goes against all human love to allow unnecessary suffering and this is an important factor for those who believe in Love and Light. On the other hand only such a Light  can know what is unnecessary suffering. Cannot we trust that intolerable pain will not be allowed by nature? Does it not provide the unconsciousness of concussion rather than our experience of something beyond which we can bear?

Is there any point in keeping someone alive past the point he or she can contribute to society?

For many being useful is the purpose of their lives. But how can one be sure anyone is no longer serving a useful role? For all we know in any given situation, a need for nursing care is a stimulus for others to learn better how to act in a selfless way and for the sufferer to see the affection and concern of close family members as they do what they can to help.

Euthanasia implies a right to die

One consideration for religious people is they did not create their life — it is from God their Creator. The life within them is not theirs to own and dispose of as they wish. It is God’s life in them. But more than a gift, life is a trust. Their life is on trust and they see themselves as stewards of this gift. To choose death, for the person of faith, therefore, is a denial that God is trusting that person with life. If life is a gift then we have no right to a life and so have no right to a death.

The question of euthanasia raises many spiritual issues.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

 

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on14th February 2011CategoriesEthics, Ethics & LifeTags,, , , , , , , , , , , , ,, , , , ,  Leave a comment

Hypocrite – Does it matter if I am one?

hypocritePeople are quick to notice when there is any inconsistency between what we say and what we do. For example if you are nice to someone but nasty about them when they are not there. The danger then is of people seeing you as two-faced. I’m sure there is more risk of being thought of as a hypocrite if we have strong principles. We are less likely to be able to live up to what we like to talk about.

I may be strong on green issues. Decrying the increasing amount of vehicles on the roads that emit carbon into the atmosphere. Yet, I fly abroad on holiday. This may remind you of the left-wing politicians who, championing equal opportunities, nevertheless, send their children to the best schools. Would it be unfair to tell us, “You don’t practice what you preach”?

I don’t want those I know to perceive me as a hypocrite. I have written a lot about interpersonal matters, like tolerance, patience, kindness and so on. So, I feel self-conscious about how I behave in my personal life.

Parents don’t often realise that ‘Do as I say (and not as I do)’ looks phoney.

“Kids have what I call a built-in hypocrisy antenna that comes up and blocks out what you’re saying when you’re being a hypocrite.” (Ben Carson, American politician)

But is this fair? No one is perfect. We’re all a work in progress.

Social etiquette

It has been said that a lot of politeness in ordinary affairs is insincere – more a conformity to social etiquette than genuine concern for someone. Kate Fox has researched the way English people communicate with each other. In her book Watching the English she finds that the never-ending use of the word ‘please’ camouflages instructions as requests. She also maintains that the constant employment of ‘thank-you’ maintains an illusion of friendly equality.

“On average, at least every other ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’, ‘nice’, ‘lovely’, (plus smiles, nods, etc) is hypocritical.” (Kate Fox, social anthropologist)

Such words are said to function to conceal real opinions and feelings in order to avoid causing offence or embarrassment or rocking the boat. According to this view, pretence is the English default position to help with the challenge of social interaction. It is said that this mild form of hypocrisy is mainly a matter of:

“unconscious, collective self-deception – collusion in an unspoken agreement to delude ourselves – rather than a deliberate, cynical, calculated attempt to deceive others.”   (Kate Fox, social anthropologist)

So perhaps you shouldn’t be criticised as a hypocrite just because you are not fully up front with any hidden negative feelings in the way you politely interact with others.

Pretence in relationships

Hypocrisy is the discrepancy between what we inwardly feel and what we outwardly do or say. However, I would like to suggest that, in an intimate relationship, not all inconsistency between inner and outer is bad.

For example someone suggested that it might not be prudent to give full vent in your display of inner affection towards your lover. Why ever not? One suggested answer is to prevent your partner complacently taking you for granted.

Another example concerns the marital row. Why not swallow one’s pride and pour oil on troubled waters rather than express all one’s anger. Some degree of this sort of pretence might actually lead to later enjoyment of each other’s company or even bring about a difficult to find reconciliation.

Dare I put forward the notion that the exaggeration of tolerance and respect – for example as when seeming to excuse faults – may keep two quarrelling partners together. Not all marriages are made in heaven with deep feelings of mutual love. Such pretending might be good for the relationship and the needs of the family as a whole.

Emanuel Swedenborg the 18th century spiritual philosopher, distinguished between what he called praiseworthy pretences and hypocritical pretences. He said the former are for the sake of what is good. They are intended to ensure concord in child rearing, promote peace in the home, as well as protect reputations outside the home.

Harm done by the hypocrite

I have defended superficial politeness in social situations and being economical with the truth in marriage. However, I do not deny the harm hypocrisy can do. The self-righteous hypocrite undermines any good principles e.g. regarding marital fidelity, payment of tax, or sober driving, that they happen to proclaim to the rooftops. This is done by the opposite things he or she does behind the scenes. Any worthy political or social criticism they make is not heard. Instead of reflecting on the relevance of the points, don’t we tend to focus on the messenger rather than the message? “Well you do it too” or “Who are you to criticise us?” It is as if we are saying ‘Two wrongs make a right’ and so we can stop listening.

In the Christian Bible, Jesus criticises the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites in the passage known as the Woes of the Pharisees.

Also in the Buddhist text Dhammapada, Gautama Buddha censures a man who takes the appearance of an ascetic but is full of passions within.

At the same time, in Islam, hypocrisy is a serious sickness. The Qur’an rails against those who claim to be believers and peacemakers, but act in a different way, thinking they are fooling Allah and others, but only fooling themselves.

Self-deception of the hypocrite

One might think that the person, who acts like a hypocrite, knows full well they are trying to deceive others. But I’m not so sure. I suspect many of us just don’t get the discrepancy that others can see. I mean any inconsistency between our inner attitudes and the outward expression of our views. Aren’t we all capable of hypocrisy?

According to Carl Jung there is a shadowy side to our character about which we should not deceive ourselves. A little less hypocrisy and a little more self-knowledge can lead to personal change for the good. Unless we root out what is undesirable within us we cannot hope to become better people.

Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Saying sorry — when should I do this?

Saying sorryYou can hear people saying sorry at funny times. I thoughtlessly knocked into someone in the supermarket the other day and she apologised to me even though it wasn’t her fault! Actually, I have noticed that British people do tend to say sorry over the least thing. It seems to be an unthinking response in the presence of strangers. Perhaps we do it as a way of trying to be polite to cover up any embarrassment.  Yet, is it not the case that we can hesitate before saying ‘sorry’, in more important matters, for fear of getting all the blame, or of being punished?

Need to hear people saying sorry

I have found that when you really have let someone down like forgetting to do a job or keep a social arrangement, the other person does need an apology and also receive some indication of why. Without these two things, it really is more difficult for them to let go and move on without harbouring resentment. One example is the resentment of a house seller after the purchaser pulls out of the deal at the last moment without giving any meaningful reason — this despite the vendor having invested much time, money, and emotion in the preparations for house change.

No one is perfect and in our personal lives inevitably we make a few thoughtless mistakes from time to time and sometimes are even careless of other people’s needs. Pouring oil on to troubled waters is so important. How often do you hear about so-and-so not talking to someone because of something he or she had done or failed to do. And of course the longer this failure of communication goes on the more difficult it is to heal the rift. Sadly a family feud can last for years.

Fear of punishment if saying sorry

Sometimes all it needed was an apology. But has there ever been a time when you failed to say ‘sorry’? Perhaps it was because you had no excuse to offer and was uneasy about the other guy getting cross with you.

Most truths are so naked that people feel sorry for them and cover them up, at least a little bit.
(Edward R. Murrow)

Fogging

There are of course a few people you might happen to offend who love to play the blame game. Once you recognise this person as someone who takes delight in putting others down then you might be a bit cautious in how you apologise even when you are at least partly in the wrong. This overcritical person can need careful handling. There is a technique taught by assertion skills coaches called ‘fogging’. The idea is to disarm the verbal bully by not defensively justifying one’s mistakes — not getting into a fight that the bully knows all too well how to win.

Taunt: “This is some real sloppy work!  You’ve really gone downhill since we’ve employed you!”

Response: “I am sorry that this is not my best work. I guess there were some problems that can be fixed next time.”

Taunt: “What you did was no good at all.”

Response: “I imagine some people might say that. We will have to wait for the customer feedback to be sure.”

Taunt: “You were either careless or lazy.”

Response: “I guess I will be able to be more careful with more realistic time constraints on the next job.”

Fogging, in essence, is giving an apology without appearing to be defensive about it whilst at the same time not necessarily accepting all the blame. In other words agreeing with a small portion of what the bully says that happens to be true, without agreeing with the general point he or she is making, and without agreeing with all the implications.

Ego-defensiveness

You may be the sort of person who just finds it very hard to be saying ‘sorry’  to anyone including to those who are ready to forgive. It can be difficult to acknowledge when you are in the wrong because of anxiety associated with fragile self-confidence: or perhaps when you just can’t bear to feel the guilt: or are too proud to admit you are in the wrong. Self-protection can be more important than the truth and can work at an unconscious level. And so this ego-defensiveness is much more noticeable in others than in yourself.

The result for people like this is that they are not really in touch with themselves. They don’t really know themselves and are unaware why they really are doing things.

Spiritual teaching

But even if you do know in general terms about your weaknesses and failings, it is quite another thing to acknowledge where and when you are in the wrong, and yet another to deeply regret what you have done.

According to Emanuel Swedenborg genuine apology is when you both acknowledge what you have done wrong and resolve to change what you do so the error is not repeated. Saying sorry is otherwise meaningless.

I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.
(Leo Tolstoy)

Swedenborg is concerned with the right religious attitude. A few people who you have offended against may be taken in by an insincere apology but he points out you cannot fool the divine spirit of truth who many call God and who sees all things.

He criticises those Christians who believed that a general confession of sin is  sufficient for their personal salvation. Instead, he maintains it is a waste of time for the religious believer to confess their sins to God unless their apology is heartfelt and leads to an attempt at personal change. Only in this way can they hope to gradually receive new spiritual life.

So, if he is right and if you want your personal life to be spiritually transformed, I would suggest you really do need to listen to your inner conscience, humbly acknowledge where you are specifically going wrong, say sorry in your heart to your image of God, and sincerely resolve to try to change your ways.

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

17th July 2013CategoriesEthics, Interpersonal EthicsTags,, , , , , , ,, , , , , ,, , , Leave a comment

Just how tolerant should I try to be?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

tolerantThe British live in a curiously tolerant country – one which allows a range of values, views about life, and philosophical and political belief. But one thing for which people are not tolerant is intolerance! For example an intolerant attitude towards diversity is associated in the public mind with being discriminatory, moralistic and rejecting.

And so to criticise the sex industry runs the risk of condemning prostitutes. To complain about levels of immigration is to be thought of as racist. To argue against the introduction of gay marriage is seen as homophobia.

Judgmental attitude

In one sense this idea of being tolerant is not new. Jesus Christ could be said to have exemplified it by spending time with those whose lifestyles were outside the accepted morality of his day, the tax collectors, and so on. His tolerant conduct illustrates the idea of accepting others for what they are rather than acting with social prejudice.

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’ (Matt 7:1)

But ‘turning the other cheek’ and treating people who offend our values and susceptibilities with forbearance and indulgence sometimes feels a step too far. For example the value of peace and quiet in one’s neighbourhood may suit some but others may prefer a livelier scene with loud music blaring from the local pub or party goers having a good time in the street.

Limits to being tolerant

Are there no limits to being tolerant? When we stop and reflect then of course we realise there must be limits if society is to hold together. If the police in a neighbourhood tolerated robbery and violence without any attempt to arrest criminals, then chaos would ensue. Any political authority tolerating such a state of affairs would stand accused of a complete lack of compassion for the plight of innocent victims.

However there are numerous occasions when no law is broken yet those with views about what is right and wrong feel that being tolerant can merge into permissiveness or naivety. Some people want to stand up for what they feel is right but can be accused of intolerance when they do so.

How tolerant should we be of unsolicited telephone calls from call centres trying to sell unwanted things, of cyclists riding on busy pavements endangering parents with small children, of intimidating groups of youths hanging around street corners, of a sports crowd using foul language in the presence of children, or of an old driver slowly driving along a single lane road holding up a long line of traffic.

Voicing criticism

I would suggest it is possible to stand up for what one believes by voicing criticism provided this is done in a social skilled manner. Knowing how to differentiate between the behaviour one wants to complain about and the person who is giving offence is part of the answer. It is a real challenge is to try to recognize one’s unsympathetic and over-critical mindset and learn to tolerate people who anger you by disliking what they do rather than the people themselves.

But how is criticism expressed? When someone gets on their high horse their criticism sounds like they are putting down the other person. This is the mark of an intolerant attitude. Some of us are better than others in voicing criticism using wit and good humour without appearing to dominate.

Charitable attitude

I believe the core of an intolerant attitude is an uncharitable attitude. This can be recognised as a narrow mind and unsympathetic feeling. It is shown by jumping to conclusions about someone because of a desire to find fault: not bothering to look for mitigating circumstances that could partly excuse someone’s actions: and failing to look for the good rather than the bad in the person about whom you are prejudiced.

There probably is not much more likely to cause intolerant anger than matters of religious belief. Witness the hatred and violence of two branches of Christianity in 17th century England. And so I was delighted when holidaying in Monmouthshire recently to came across a beautiful small Moravian chapel near Tintern Abbey which had a notice saying

“In things essential – unity,
In non-essentials – liberty
In all things — charity”

It is charitable to remember that what appears to be right to you may be seen differently by others. And that by allowing others to do things of which you disapprove doesn’t mean you are saying they are acting in line with what you want and think is right.

I would ike to say a charitable attitude is no use if exercised unwisely. What behaviour in others to tolerate depends on one’s good sense as well as one’s charitable attitude. If this is true then don’t give a drunk money to spend on booze: don’t tolerate abusive behaviour from a family member: don’t allow the children to manipulate you.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-LacyAuthor of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

 

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on9th August 2012CategoriesEthics, Interpersonal EthicsTags, , , , ,, , , , ,, , , , ,  Leave a comment

Look after yourself & others – How to do both?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Look after who?We don’t choose our neighbours, nor our bosses and work-mates, not even our relatives. Sometimes these people are uncomfortable to live with, difficult to talk to, or they oppose our hopes and aspirations. How do you look after your own needs whilst dealing fairly with these people? How do you deal with the unwelcome challenge of having to respond to what others want that conflicts with your own interests?

Ideal answers don’t always work.

Some people might say that to be a loving spirit one must always prioritise the other person’s needs. In an ideal world this may be the best answer. It assumes that others will look after you first and everyone will be happy. Sounds like heaven.

But we live on earth where people are not always caring. You have needs too. And if these are neglected too much, then you will suffer the consequences; hunger, loneliness, frustration, fatigue, failure, unfair blame etc. I rather like the biblical idea of loving one’s neighbour as oneself – in other words caring about the other’s needs as much as caring about one’s own.

Look after yourself too

And so I would suggest you cannot look after others if you don’t also look after yourself. I was on a plane about to fly on a trip across the Atlantic. As the engines were warming up, the flight attendant showed the passengers how to put on the oxygen mask in case of an emergency. “Pull it down from above and pull it over your face – but make sure you do your own before helping with your child’s mask.” I would have been no use to the child if I couldn’t breathe.

Usefulness to oneself is also usefulness to others, for to be of use to oneself
is to be in a state to be of use to others. (Swedenborg DLW 318)

Look after yourself and others by sharing and taking turns

Isn’t it the same in most other situations? We may be in a hurry at the supermarket but so might be other customers. Forming a queue at the checkout is what we do to fairly meet everyone’s needs. Members of the queue look themselves as they look after each other by taking turns. We also do this with our friends to pay for a round of drinks in the pub. Restaurant staff often share out tips customers have left. Likewise, they look after themselves as they look after each other. We share the responsibility for paying for public services. When you come to think of it there are innumerable examples of how people practise taking turns and sharing. It is all part of the spirit of ‘give and take’ that helps oil the way we rub shoulders with others.

How each partnership negotiate their relationship will differ but the spiritual principle is that each puts something in and each takes something out. Loving one’s partner as oneself means working on the relationship; striving for fairness; and considering the wide range of duties and responsibilities that go to make up a modern marriage.

And to discover how this works means asking questions. How money for the family is earned. Who does the DIY? The social organizing? The gardening? How are social arrangements made? Who looks after the children and spends time with them? Does each have time to do their own thing? And so on.

Taking turns or sharing aren’t always possible

Taking turns and sharing is all very well but when you want one thing and your work colleague or next-door neighbour wants something completely different, how do you go forward fairly? How do you look after your own needs and look after the the needs of others when these seem so incompatible? Collaboration may be a non-starter – after all it takes two to tango and however willing you are to work on the issue the other person may not be. It is perhaps easier to suggest what not to do in this kind of situation. Not jumping to conclusions about the character of the person. Only judging the behaviour rather than the perpetrator.

Sometimes the most that can be hoped for is a compromise that is second best for each after both sides have negotiated to find a middle ground. But this surely is better than walking away from the person and thus making future communication even more difficult. And certainly better than verbal aggression.

Recognising unfair demands

Sometimes you might get involved with someone who turns out to be quite needy. It seems that you are doing all the giving and the other person doing all the taking. How can one love this kind of neighbour without becoming burnt out? One answer is to act on the suggestion that acquiescing to selfish demands of others does not help them in the long run.

To sum up what I am trying to say. You need to turn to the best part of yourself — the spiritual dimension within you – so you can maintain what is fair and good in your dealings with other people for the benefit of both yourself and them.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on25th April 2012CategoriesInterpersonal EthicsTags,, , , , , , , ,  Leave a comment