Archive for February, 2018

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings. –Albert Schweitzer

In 1984 (yes, gentle reader, there was actually a year, not only a book, 1984) I walked into a B. Dalton book store (yes, there was a B. Dalton book store, a national chain, a ‘big player,’ at one time they were the largest chain with more than 780 stores nationwide. B. Dalton’s was purchased in 1987 by Barnes & Noble).  I wandered around the bookstore – this is one of things I still love to do, wander around large book stores – in Singapore there is one that is three stories tall, not the tallest I have ever been in though.  But, I digress.

Back to B. Dalton’s.  I was wandering around.  I stopped.  I took a step back and a title called to me: Pick me up!  I did and my life was enriched as a result.  The author was Nel Noddings and she continues to be a deep tap root that feeds my intellect, my heart and my soul.  The book: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education.  Nel introduced me to Feminine Ethics and Care Ethics.  In 1982 I had immersed myself in Carol Gilligan’s ground-breaking work: In a Different Voice.  There have been many others who followed these two ‘surveyors’.  In 1987 the third person of this ‘trinity’ called to me in another bookstore.  This was Virginia Held.  Many view her as the person who stimulated the early research into the ‘Ethics of Care.’

Recently I was sitting with this triumvirate of powerful women; their books open, lying in front of me.  I began to reflect and take some notes and then found myself putting finger to key.  What emerged were some ‘Considerations’ with a focus on ‘Feminist Ethics.’  A few days ago I began to put some of my notes together into one document which I call: ‘CONSIDER: FEMINIST ETHICS’.

Beginning in the early 1980s, feminists (philosophers, clinical psychologists, and social psychologists) began to develop more fully what was deemed to be a morality of caring.  As I noted above, Carol Gilligan was one of the seminal thinkers who claimed that, for the most part, women tended (still tend today?) to interpret moral problems differently from the way men tended (still tend today?) to interpret them.  For women caring relationships are primary; for men, being moral is more apt to be described in terms of ‘individual compliance’ with ‘rational rules’ concerned mainly with ‘individual rights.’

Consider, that an ‘Ethic of Care’ recognizes that caring for children and dependent persons is a fundamental charge rooted in moral values.  This ‘Ethic’ believes that persons are, by nature, interdependent rather than independent individuals (Think: No man is an island!).  This ‘Ethic’ believes that morality must embrace issues of caring and empathy and interpersonal relationships rather than primarily focus on the ‘rational decisions’ of ‘solitary moral agents.’

The hardest times for me were not when people challenged what I said, but when I felt my voice was not heard. – Carol Gilligan




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Gentle reader, if you have been following my blog you know that I love stories.  I especially am drawn to and love ‘teaching stories.’  This morning I am going to share a ‘Dervish Teaching Story.’  This story is more than 1,000 years old.


A conventionally-minded dervish, from an austerely pious school, was walking one day along a river bank.  He was absorbed in concentration upon moralistic problems, for this was the form which Sufi teaching had taken in the community to which he belonged.  He equated emotional religion with search for ultimate Truth.

Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by a loud shout: someone was repeating the dervish call. “There is no point in that,’ he said to himself, ‘because the man is mispronouncing the syllables.  Instead of intoning YA HU, he is saying U TA HU.’

Then the dervish realized that he had a duty, as a more careful student, to correct this unfortunate person, who might have had no opportunity of being rightly guided, and was therefore probably only doing his best to attune himself with the idea behind the sounds.

So he hired a boat and made his way to the island in midstream from which the sound appeared to come.

Sitting in a reed hut he found a man, dressed in a dervish robe, moving in time to his own repetition of the initiatory phrase.  ‘My friend,’ said the first dervish, ‘you are mispronouncing the phrase.  It is incumbent upon me to tell you this, because there is merit for him who gives and him who takes advice.  This is the way in which you speak it.’  And he told him.

‘Thank you,’ said the other dervish humbly.

The first dervish entered his boat again, full of satisfaction at having done a good deed.  After all, it was said that a man who could repeat the sacred formula correctly could even walk upon the waves: something that he had never seen, but always hoped – for some reason – to be able to achieve.

Now he could hear nothing from the reed hut, but he was sure that his lesson had been well taken.

Then he heard a faltering U TA as the second dervish started to repeat the phrase in his old way…

While the first dervish was thinking about this, reflecting upon the perversity of humanity and its persistence in error, he suddenly saw a strange sight.  From the island the other dervish was coming toward him, walking on the surface of the water…

Amazed, he stopped rowing. The second dervish walked up to him and said: ‘Brother, I am sorry to trouble you, but I have to come out to ask you again the standard method of making the repetition you were telling me, because I find it difficult to remember it.’

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Gentle reader, if you have been following my own searching and seeking via my blog postings you know that the great Roman Emperor-Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, continues to impact my reflections.  For me, Marcus provides me ‘food for thought’ because of his journal, Meditations.

In his journal he shares with us his own thoughts about what it means to be a great leader, to be a Stoic, to be a seeker of wisdom, and to be fully human.  For me, and literally hundreds of thousands of others these past 2100+ years, his impact is intensified because he was not writing for anyone but himself.  Thus, in his Meditations we have an intimate view into the thinking, into the heart, mind and soul of one of the world’s most powerful, and thought-full, men.

I have been, once again, re-reading Marcus’ Meditations and have decided to quote him at length.  The following comes from Book III.4.  Marcus writes:

Do not waste the reminder of your life in thoughts about others… For you lose the opportunity of doing something else when you have such thoughts as these: What is such a person doing, and what is he saying, and what is he thinking of, and what is he contriving, and whatever else of the kind makes us wander away from the observation of our own ruling power.

 We ought then to check in the series of our thoughts everything that is without a purpose and useless, but most of all the overcurious feeling and the malignant; and a man should use himself to think of those things only about which if one should suddenly ask: What have you now, in your thoughts? 

 With perfect openness you might immediately respond: This or That…so that from your words it should be plain that everything in you is simple and benevolent, and such as befits a social animal, one that cares not for thoughts about pleasure or sensual enjoyments at all, nor has any rivalry or envy and suspicion, or anything else for which you would blush if you should say that you had it in your mind. 

 For the man who is such and no longer delays being among the number of the best, is like a priest and minister of the gods, using too the deity which is planted within him, which makes the man uncontaminated pleasure, unharmed by any pain, untouched by any insult, feeling no wrong, a fighter in the noblest fight, one who cannot be overpowered by any passion, dyed deep with justice, accepting with all his soul everything which happens and is assigned to him as his portion; and not often, nor yet without great necessity and for the general interest, imagining what another says, or does, or thinks.

 For it is only what belongs to himself that he makes his own act fair, and he is persuaded that his own portion is good. 

 For the lot which is assigned to each man is carried along with him and carries him along with it. 

 And he remembers also that every rational animal is his kinsman, and that to care for all men is according to man’s nature; and a man should hold onto the opinion not of all but of those only who confessedly live according to nature. 

 But as to those who live not so, he always bears in mind what kind of men they are both at home and from home, both by night and by day, and what they are, and with what men they live an impure life. 

 Accordingly, he does not value at all the praise which comes from such men, since they are not even satisfied with themselves.

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Gentle Reader, once again, I have decided to offer you my annual re-post.  I re-post in order to remind myself of the power of ‘one step’ taken.  ‘One step’ can, indeed, make all the difference.

I opened my eyes. The room was dark, my soul was darker still – darker than the dark night of the soul. I could not see my hand nor my future. I paused. I turned on the lamp that was on the table next to my bed. I looked at the alarm clock – 1:30am on 21 February, 1965.

I was in the second semester of my sophomore year at the university. I had just switched majors for the third time; it was a symbol of my wandering around in the darkness. I was beyond depression; I was numb.

During the winter months, one of the favorite ways for students to kill themselves at this university was to over-dress, walk to one end of the two lakes on campus (the one that always had a small part open due to the warm water being piped into it from the student laundry) and then to step into the water and allow the weight of the clothes to help drag you to the bottom.

I dressed slowly. I layered two pair of pants and covered these with a pair of sweat pants. I put on my heaviest winter boots. I covered my upper body in four layers of shirts and sweat shirts and topped it all off with my heavy winter coat, fur lined gloves and covered my head with a hat which was covered with a ski cap.

I slowly waddled my way down the steps; I opened the door. I paused. I stepped into the darkness. I had to walk around the first lake – the frozen lake – in order to reach the small opening at the end of the other lake.

On 21 February, 2010 I wrote a poem that captured what followed once I reached the opening in the lake. The poem follows. Following the poem is a photo of that lake.


I stood in the dark night of winter
peering into the water that seemed
so inviting. Like a polar bear, I
was covered in layers of warm clothing.

Like a polar bear I was there to take a swim
in the cold winter water. Unlike the polar
bear I was not there to seek nourishment but

The dark night of my own winter had
become unbearable and so I stood
contemplating one final step into the deep
that would provide relief.  One step.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

In the wintery silence of my soul I heard a
whisper; a tiny voice struggled to be heard
amidst the noise of my silence.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I listened. The whisper grew in intensity
and clarity. I listened. Why don’t you
go and talk with somebody?

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I listened. The question held a bit of
light in the form of a small hope.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I turned, I took the One Step, not into
the water of relief but into the dark
that held out a small light of hope. –Richard W Smith, 21 February 2010

  ‘The Lake’ where I paused – then took that one step.

The Lake Where I Paused

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Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius

In this final posting for this topic our focus will shift from conceptual questions like ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’ to operational questions like ‘Where?’ and ‘How?’

Once again the ‘Leader’ (Think: CEO, Board Chair, and President, for example) is the person who must ultimately ensure that moral-ethical awareness happens, especially when the values and behavior of the Culture are at stake (Think: Organization, Government, Society).  The Leader is the person most responsible and response-able for providing substance to the moral agenda of the organized Collective.

There are a number of broad imperatives present; I will offer us three to consider: orienting, institutionalizing, and sustaining the ‘conscience of the culture.’  There are, of course, hindrances, barriers and blocks that emerge in response to each of these; I will not address these and yet you, gentle reader, will, I think, be able to emerge them in response to each of the imperatives I offer for consideration.

Let’s continue with a question: Does the Leader understand where the Culture is, morally-ethically, to begin with?  This is not an easy question to embrace, hold and respond to.  Consider, one aspect: Orienting (or reorienting) ethical-moral core values (An Aside: Too often the Leader assumes that the ‘core values’ are truly ‘core’ and are truly ‘shared’ when they are not) is a daunting challenge that requires time, energy and effort on the part of many (Think: Diverse Voices).

The process is rooted in inquiry.  It is helpful to remember that the question that has not been framed and offered is one that cannot be embraced, held and responded to.  Questions determine the path.  Questions can broaden one path into many or they can drastically limit the path available (which, sadly, is too often what happens).

As the Orientation becomes clear (Think: the Ethical-Moral Core Values are clear and the Paths are clear) questions about the legitimacy of the orientation are standing in the wings waiting to be called forth to center stage (again, sadly, too often these questions are not called forth).

Orientation provides the opening for Institutionalizing.  Institutionalizing means integrating the Core Values (Think: Orientation) so they are some of the major tap roots that nurture the Culture’s consciousness and conscience.  The process includes, but is not limited to, communication, motivation, and discipline as the moral-ethical core values are connected to and impact the ‘operations’ at every turn.  One major exploration that is also a challenging one: To what extent do our incentives and rewards appeal more to self-interest rather than to the common good of all?

Institutionalizing involves, among other things, extending and sustaining the ethical-moral core values; integrating them so they become ‘habits’ – ‘habits of the heart’ –  and ‘second-nature’ to all.  Just like our individual character, Cultural Character can – and often does – weaken over time.  Although ‘compromise,’ for example, is necessary we know that too much compromise will weaken, if not erode, my-our ethical-moral core values (Think: The elected official who compromises his/her integrity in order to accept the big donation from a group that will later ‘call in their chit’).

Institutionalizing also means a commitment to more than the next generation.  The Iroquois Confederacy more than 1000 years ago insisted that all major decisions be made with the next seven generations in mind.  How many of our organized cultures actually commit to ‘long term thinking’?  For example, how many of the ‘Good to Great’ companies still exist today?  Sustainability, is another of those daunting challenges that all organized cultures are challenged to embrace.

I conclude these postings with words from Emerson:

What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.

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