Systemic basis for a 'natural morality'? LO29814

Date: 01/14/03

Replying to LO29614 --

Fred Nickols wrote:
"Absent a universal system of values, I see nothing but
endless debate regarding the "goodness" of any particular learning and a
much more likely consensus regarding the "effectiveness" of any particular
learning. In short, I can see fairly clearly how to judge the
effectiveness of learning but how are we to judge its goodness?"

An inquiry: Is there any systemic basis for a 'natural morality'? What
one might call a universal system of values? Some direct, ***experiential
guidelines*** that can be applied to any action or mental operation,
including particular learnings?

War and unethical business conduct are in the news most every day. It's
amazing to me that TV and radio commentators typically seem to address
only the legal and political strategies surrounding such issues, rather
than asking what would be the beneficial/counterproductive, or
moral/immoral directions that can be taken. Why? Is it partly that with
traditional religious injunctions being less dominant in the culture,
there's widespread confusion about how to determine what is beneficial or
moral? In other words, without predetermined moral injunctions and
beliefs typically based on others' pronouncements, we're confused about
which directions will produce 'good' results?

Is there a kind of 'natural', rather than 'imposed' morality that arises
spontaneously and appropriately in any situation? My inquiry into this
shows so far that there is. But how can this be characterized or

Take a simple example. You see someone run up to another and hit him on
the head, quite hard. Is this 'bad'? 'Immoral'? 'Good'? How do we tell?
Suppose the two people are football players, and one is celebrating and
appreciating the touchdown just scored by the other. So it's probably a
'good' act. Though we seem to have a strong tendency to judge the value
of acts by placing them in predetermined categories, it seems like the
morality of acts is better determined by ***how*** the act is done and
experienced by each person, rather than ***what*** the act is.

Another example: Suppose you see a video of two people engaged in sex.
Exactly how do you tell the difference between blissfully making love,
'banging each other', and rape? The physical act alone may appear similar
in each case. Again, it seems like the morality is determined by
***how*** the act is done and experienced by each person. But how can we
define or describe """how"""?

Given that any given act (such as hitting someone else on the head) could
be beneficial or detrimental (celebration during a football game vs. a
mugging on a dark street) depending on the experience of the actor, we
need to look at something besides cut and dried ideas of what's moral and
what isn't. What other candidates are there?

Here's a draft of a broad definition/description of a counterproductive
[detrimental vs. beneficial] act (whether 'inward' or 'outward', presuming
that these can be distinguished):

a 'movement' that darkens, clouds, or scatters rather than
brightens/clarifies/focuses/coheres the energy in a moment-world-view, or
that divides or increases the separations within awareness or a focal
setting or frame of mind rather than further illuminating awareness or
dissolving boundaries within awareness
How can this be applied moment-by-moment during 'ordinary experience'?
Following are some notes on a trip I took to Montreal, attempting to
explore this possibility:

I awoke this morning to the sound of an alarm in my hotel room in
Montreal. I quickly remembered that I'd set the alarm so I could get
downstairs to the 'free' breakfast included in the cost of my hotel room,
and wouldn't have to spend extra company money on food during the day. I
felt tired and dull, and had some strange sensations in my body, all of
which were gradually transformed as I dressed and made my way to the
restaurant. Transforming the tiredness and lightening the dullness was

On the way to the elevator, I thought that I needed to wake up, because I
felt disoriented. However, I realized that this was an interpretation on
top of a fairly deep meditation experience. So I just stayed with that.
This was also beneficial in concentrating the energy rather than allowing
it to scatter.

As I sat down at the breakfast table, a waiter greeted me. I responded in
kind, and asked how he was, simultaneously feeling an opening and warmth
toward him. This was beneficial. I asked for decaf. He offered orange
juice along with the coffee. This delighted me, since I didn't really
know before that what would be good for me. I accepted, continuing the
lightening of awareness resulting from his offer. Also beneficial.

Sitting at the table, I noticed bright light outside the window. I opened
to this, a beneficial act. I noticed a woman walking by, and a kind of
tunnel vision based in desire began to take shape. She was with her
husband and kids. A choice point arose. I could stay with my narrowing
focus, and explore further my thoughts and desires as they related to her.
Or I could allow the narrowing to move into space and light--not suppress
the desire and tunnelling, but let it transform, which I did,
beneficially. No injunction about "Do not covet thy neighbor's wife" was
necessary or useful. The beneficial movement was based on prior
experience and discovery of what was productive and counterproductive, and
was not based on injunction imposed from some external source. This is
also an example of handling the possible beginning of interpersonal

As I was walking on the sidewalk yesterday, two women approached from the
opposite direction. As we passed, they were on my left, and a street
light pole was on my right. They kept walking straight ahead, giving me a
choice of pushing them away to the left, or moving to the right, quite
close to the pole, to keep from bumping into them. I moved to the right,
and felt annoyed. Thoughts about their inconsiderateness, and their
'coming into my space' arose. This was a beneficial act, not defending a
smaller, offended 'personal space', but opening up to a space that simply
allowed everyone to pass without trying to understand why they did such an
unthinking inconsiderate thing, and without making more of a fuss than
there already was. This had great potential for interpersonal conflict.
I saw a similar incident here in Montreal during a past stay. I saw two
men pass each other at a spot on the sidewalk that was narrowed by
construction. One got really offended that the other didn't share the
space. They ended up yelling at each other for quite a while as a number
of other people watched and listened in amazement, amusement, and disgust.
It seemed quite certain that they were both involved in a detrimental act,
though I was observing and judging this from 'outside'-anyway, it
certainly disrupted my awareness and sense of well-being.

Yesterday as I stood in line waiting to buy something at a store, the
woman in front of me moved toward the cash register, and a man behind me
made a move to go around me. I moved forward, and the man made a gesture
indicating that the space was 'mine'. I was still a bit offended that the
man had made the move, but let the feeling dissolve into space. A
beneficial move, avoiding further conflict.

It seems obvious that simple things like those pointed out in the last
three paragraphs can be the basis for starting and perpetuating a war.
"It was my space," "It was my turn," "It was my place in line," "That
wasn't what I said or meant." Simple annoyances can be elaborated into
very powerful and detrimental results. To get really upset and justify
it, we seem to attribute negative motives to others, and to develop
ideologies that justify our actions in comparison to others.

Steve Randall, Ph.D.
Time Management Supersite:
Includes complete time management courses

"I agree that we should stop the superficial firefighting of the temporal
problems in organizations, and engage instead in deeper explorations and
reconceptualizations of the meaning of time, work, and the workplace."
--Dr. Babis Mainemelis, Department of Organisational Behaviour, London
Business School


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