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THE TEACHER

In 1997 I was teaching a course in Business Ethics.  This was a required course for all undergraduate business majors; needless to say, but I will anyway, some of the students really, truly, for sure did not want to be taking this course.  However, we did have our moments when the doors of learning were wide open for all of us.

I had just finished telling a story about Socrates.  A student raised her hand and asked the following question:  How can we recognize a real teacher?  How can we tell the difference between the wisdom figure and the charlatan?  My breath was taken away.  Here was a searching question; here was a question I, myself, had been holding for decades.

I had the ready answer and as I ran through it in my mind I also knew that it was not the answer; it was a response that so many, including myself, had given over the centuries.  I continued to hold the silence.  The students had become used to my doing so.  I wanted to provide a response from my heart.  I paused.  I replied: ‘I don’t know the answer to your question.’  I wanted to respond with conviction and this was it, I did not know the answer.

I then continued: ‘Let’s think about it.’  I added, ‘All the qualities of a true teacher can be faked by one who is not a true teacher.  So, if this is true, then what? I believe we need help and guidance as we search for a response; but we don’t want to be fooled.  We need to think critically but not cynically. We want to be guided more by doubt than by surety.’   

Then a little piece of light was breaking through the darkness; I was feeling the question as my own and I was feeling the need for guidance and wisdom.  Then the question that shifted us all emerged; actually it was a set of questions that flew from me and from them.  Here are some that I wrote down:  How much do I really wish for wisdom?  How much do I really wish for guidance?  How serious is this need in me, you, us? 

 Together we transformed the question, the new question which challenged us, the question that had emerged from our own collective wisdom was: What does it mean to be a searcher and a seeker?  What did it mean for us, sitting there in that room together, to search together for wisdom?  How intently do I, you, and we truly search for the teacher – the teacher that resides within each of us?

The Chinese have a saying, when the student is ready the teacher will appear.  One way of being ‘ready’ is to truly be a searcher; to be the student who is ‘ready’ and to trust that the teacher will indeed appear.  The teacher does not show up and announce him/her self to us – we call the teacher forth, we summon the teacher.  The teacher shows up in response to our need, not in response to his/her need.  Our obligation is to become aware of our need, which requires deep searching and seeking, and our obligation is to prepare a space for the teacher, and to then be open to receiving the teacher.

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THOMAS PAINE

I have been re-reading and re-savoring the writings of Thomas Paine.  Gentle Reader, if you have not invested some time and reflective energy in his writings I invite you to do so.  In order to help you consider my invitation I will, today. Offer you some of Thomas Paine’s thoughts.  He was a prolific and powerful writer. 

As a writer he strove for clarity, clarity, clarity.  He possessed a tireless intellectual curiosity.  He was happiest when he engaged in long searching conversations.  His essay, ‘Common Sense,’ is exceptional for its language, its striking phrases and clean clarity, its sentences as brilliant as fine polished diamonds. 

Paine was guided by two powerful influences:  The Quaker virtues of sincerity and direct address are wedded to the Enlightenment belief in universal moral principles grounded in ‘Common Sense.’ 

Paine’s clarity of style enabled ‘Common Sense’s’ arguments accessible to nearly every Colonial reader, empowering them to engage in political debate concerning the daunting challenges they faced.  He uses powerfully provocative imagery borrowed from everyday life.  He draws not upon Virgil or Seneca but upon a tradesman’s experience or from science or medicine.  Images of health or sickness, of youth and old age abound; these images are concrete, vivid and often unnerving.

After reading ‘Common Sense’ the Colonists discovered they could now believe inevitable what only a short time earlier had seemed preposterous – breaking with the Crown and English rule.  So, Gentle Reader, without further ado I offer us Thomas Paine’s thoughts – thoughts which are just as challenging today as they were in the late 1700s. 

THOMAS PAINE WRITES:

  • The more men have to lose, the less willing they are to venture.  The rich are in general slaves to fear and submit to power with the trembling duplicity of a spaniel. 
  • Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society.
  • Whenever we are planning for posterity we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.
  • To God, and not to man, are all men accountable on the score of religion.
  • Call not the coldness of the soul ‘religion;’ nor put the bigot in the place of the Christian.
  • You have mistaken ‘Party’ for ‘Conscience.’  Those who desire to undermine Democracy rooted in compromise and replace it with autocracy rooted in power are hunting after it with an appetite as keen as death.
  • Nothing can reach the heart that is steeled with prejudice.
  • I should suffer the misery of devils were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stubborn, arrogant, immoral man.
  • In the common occurrences of life, we are not only apt to forget the ground we have traveled over, but frequently neglect to gather up experience as we go.
  • A too great inattention to past occurrences retards and bewilders our judgment in everything, while, on the contrary, by comparing what is past with what is present, we frequently hit on the true character of both, and become wise with very little trouble. 

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CONSIDER ‘CONSCIENCE’

The Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Business Ethics (1997) defines Conscience as inner awareness of right and wrong, good and evil.  According to Blackwell, persons said to ‘have conscience’ manifest three characteristics: 

They evaluate actions, motives and states of character to determine if these are appropriate from a moral point of view. 

They experience feelings such as guilt or satisfaction that are consistent with moral judgments that they have made.   

They are disposed to act on the basis of their moral perceptions.   

Evaluation requires reflection, probably ‘deep reflection’ or ‘intense reflection’ and it also requires that one hold and understand his/her moral point of view.  Then, or in concert with this evaluation, one experiences certain feelings – actually feels them in his/her being – ‘guilt’ or ‘satisfaction’ [versus say ‘shame’ or ‘pride’].  These feelings are consistent with the ‘moral judgments’ – not just any judgments.  Finally, ‘evaluation’ and ‘experiencing certain feelings’ are not enough; conscience is incomplete without ACTION.  Not any action, but action rooted in the first two characteristics, ‘their moral perceptions.’    

So, ‘conscience’ is ‘Evaluation + Experience of Feelings + a Disposition to Act.’  Martin Luther King, Jr. caught this, I believe, when he wrote that: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ 

When have I been silent about things that really matter?  How do I define what really matters?  What if it really matters to you but not to me?  When does what matters to the community trump what matters to me (pun intended)?  

When have I compromised my conscience?  Why did I choose to do so?

What has called my conscience forth and how did I respond?   

Do I believe that those I most vehemently disagree with act from this definition of conscience?  Do I dismiss them by labeling them as ‘having no conscience’ or by demonizing them – a common posture in our culture today?

I am no Patrick Henry.  ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’ does not attract me today.  Yet, is it possible for me to imagine or image a situation where I would choose to become a ‘Patrick Henry’?    

Patrick Henry and Martin Luther King, Jr were, to me, persons of conscience.

For you, Gentle Reader, who are persons of conscience?  When has your conscience been called forth?  And, how did you choose to respond?  Can you imagine or image a situation when you would choose to become a ‘Patrick Henry’?

One more thought.  Perhaps ‘evil’ occurs, or is invited in, when one does not respond to the call of conscience.

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VIKTOR’S OBSERVATION

Viktor Frankl observed that in the concentration camp there occurred two kinds of murder.  The first was the murder of the spirit, of one’s consciousness, of one’s humanity, of one’s sacredness.  The second was the murder of the body.

I have been thinking about the violence that we each do to our self.  Specifically, I have been thinking about the self-violence that I call burnout.  Consider that burnout is the killing of one’s passion, the killing of one’s spirit.  Burnout is not, for example, ‘biting off more than we can chew’ but rather it is biting off more than we can savor.  Consider that burnout is ruminating about the past and/or anticipating the future more than living in the present.  Burnout involves being ‘addicted to’ (I am thinking about our addictions to speed, busyness, distraction, noise – we suffer from ‘hurry sickness’). 

As I reflected upon this some questions emerged into my consciousness: In what ways do I kill my spirit, my passion, my consciousness, my humanity?  How do others attempt, either overtly or covertly, to kill my spirit, my passion, my consciousness, my humanity?  To what degree do I allow them to do so? 

If Viktor Frankl can choose to protect his spirit, his humanity while searching for meaning even amidst barbarity what prohibits me from protecting my spirit, my humanity and to search for meaning each day, if not each moment?  What do I need to do to nurture my spirit, my humanity?  What is the spirit that sustains me?  How can I demonstrate that I am response-able to my own life?

As a searcher and a seeker I am called to hold, if and respond to, these questions.   Gentle Reader, I also invite you to hold them and to respond to them.  I also invite you to emerge your own questions – questions that challenge and stretch you and, perhaps, disturb you. 

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Even as we open our hearts to others, to receive and embrace them, we habitually judge and condemn ourselves. –Christina Feldman

Like many of us I was raised with the following counsel: ‘Practice makes perfect!’  I was blessed for when I was 12 years old, Stan, my golf coach told me: ‘Remember Richard, practice does not make perfect.  Practice makes permanent!’ 

Like all of us human beings I practice many things.  Some enhance my well-being and some deplete me and harm me.  I cannot begin to number the times I shamed myself or called myself ‘bad’ as a result of my being imperfect.  I kept forgetting that, by nature, I am an Imperfect Human Being.  I also kept forgetting that ‘seeking Perfection’ is a trap.  At times I would judge myself harshly and at other times I would embrace ‘self-loathing.’ 

‘Perfection’ is an illusion.  This illusion hinders us from being compassionate with ourselves.  It hinders our ability (perhaps even our ‘desire’) for self-acceptance.  Parker Palmer in his wonder-full book, ‘Let Your Life Speak’ describes how self-acceptance can aid in our growth. 

Parker writes: I now know myself to be a person with weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light.  I now know that to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it…  To embrace weakness, liability, and darkness as part of who I am gives that part less sway over me, because all it ever wanted was to be acknowledged as part of my whole self.

For Christians a major trap is contained in a simple biblical passage (Mt 5:48): ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’  I was taught that his meant that I must become without blemish if I am going to be acceptable and truly loveable.  Talk about a millstone around the neck.  I was, however, ‘saved.’  When I was in my twenties I learned that Scripture Scholars regard this translation as ‘imprecise.’  The words ‘be perfect’ actually translate as ‘be whole.’  ‘Wholeness’ means being completely who I am – my light AND my darkness, my virtues and my vices, strengths and my growing edges.  ‘Perfection’ means being fully human; it does not mean being ‘fully God’.  As a fully human being I am a living paradox – I am light and darkness, virtue and vice, good and evil. 

As a fully imperfect human being I am more likely to ‘Stumble the Mumble’ rather than ‘Walk the Talk.’  I will ‘fall down’ AND I can, then, also ‘get back up’ and take another step.  I will not always be clear nor consistent – my ‘mumbles’ will at times dominate and add to life’s challenges.  I can, however, still strive to become more consistent and clear so that at times my ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ means ‘no.’  The reality of my being ‘Imperfect’ will humble me – it does not have to make me ‘bad.’ 

I conclude this entry with questions I hold (do you, Gentle Reader, also hold these questions): Why am I able to forgive the other for being imperfect and not offer myself the same compassionate grace?   If God forgives seventy-times seven why am I not able to forgive myself one times one?

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