I hope that you will come to see that ethics is an unavoidable must for those who want to thrive. Still, I think that many people will wonder why on earth we should even consider ethics in a discussion centred on healthy living. Maybe it is an uncommon association, not a typical lens through which to view lifestyle behaviour. This is why I feel that it is relevant to start from the very beginning, so that we can get together on the same page before going any further. I hope that you will see what I see, that this is possibly the most necessary way to approach any discussion of behaviour. Through this lens of ethics, I have found much insight.
However, taking responsibility and acting morally have become the exception in our culture, and for people not already holding themselves accountable against such guiding principles, they seem unattainable. We have even come to praise media stars for being unapologetically unethical. Governments and industries have corrupted. Everywhere we look are the symptoms of complete disregard. And even as we peer into the state of health and disease within individuals, we see the repercussions of our heedlessness. We have become ill.
We have lost our way and simply cannot be excused; the laws of nature have not changed and don’t seem likely to. Ethics, as it has been applied by very astute minds throughout history, seeks only to honour immutable laws of nature. Ethics and moral philosophy has long concerned itself with understanding right and wrong action or behaviour; a school that has dedicated itself to appreciating what ‘right’ behaviour is. One definition of ethics has it as “a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behaviour helps or harms sentient creatures“. This interpretation of the word ethics is what I have in mind when using it here; negative behaviour to be harmful, positive behaviour to be helpful or healing, and the mission to better understand our actions in these terms.
Ethics that considers the effects of behaviour on sentient creatures has at its foundation the core principles, nonmaleficence and beneficence; do no harm and do the highest good or healing possible. Fundamentally and universally we agree that it is a violation of human ethics to cause physical, emotional or psychological harm to another. We acknowledge this fact in theory, but in practice, we do seem to disregard it almost incessantly at any opportunity for personal gain. However, even in theoretical terms, we seem to completely disregard whether our behaviour is harming or helping aspects of our self. Most of us are ignorant or in denial about the implications of our behaviour on our own body and mind, ie. what are the consequences of my actions as they pertain to the different aspects of myself? Such intimate personal ethics is not a new idea, its just not a very popular or common consideration in our current times. Ethics has been used to understand human behaviour and its consequences for millennia, and here we are on a journey to better understand our behaviour and how it affects our own state of being. Let us choose to understand our actions to avoid illness, and also to enhance our development and evolution.
Of course, it can be argued that each of us is permitted to do with our own ‘property’ exactly as we wish. And for those who wish only to defend their own freedom, this may be all they wish to have, the liberty to do anything, even recklessly disregard what may be beneficial for them. However, for those of us striving to live the fullest lives possible, on all levels, we have to be willing to look at all the evidence with a sense of detachment, to see more clearly, so as to learn. One reality that does become clear is that we have to take full responsibility for all of our actions if we are serious about who we are becoming and the life we are crafting.
A central priority of our behaviour should be to minimise harm and maximise healing caused to ourselves if not to anyone else. To make this a possibility we have to expand our understanding of our actions and their consequences significantly; by studying how the mechanical, physiological, emotional, mental, and non-physical aspects of us are, or are not, affected by what we do, or don’t do. Previously it has not been possible to audit the implications of our behaviour in such a meticulous way. However, now that we are in an era of information abundance, ignorance is a choice. We have a responsibility to make higher-order choices, for our own highest good, if not for the highest good of all.
In conjunction to all of this, we are immersed in an environment which seeks to seduce us at every opportunity to succumb to our own inherent weaknesses, for the benefit of individuals and institutions seeking to profit from every aspect of our lives. Not only do we need to overcome our own feebleness, but also the onslaught of forces wishing to extort the lower aspects of ourselves. Let us apply our miraculous awareness to the facts at hand and commit ourselves to crafting a life of the highest order. This is our journey of becoming; from intellectual animals to human beings. Ethics based on the awareness of observed facts, this has always been the way of the aware.
All of our actions have reactions, and all that we experience can only be the net effect of causes that came before. There is no other possible way. One name under which this law of nature was once understood is Karma. This is not a justice system enforced by an irrational authoritarian. It is an impersonal and inescapable physical law that plays its part in making this universe’s existence possible. This fact gives us no option but to take responsibility for our choices and actions. If we behave ignorantly, or carelessly, we will likely suffer undesirable outcomes due to those actions. This is not punishment, it is the result of one of many physical laws that keep our universe in motion, and allow for this experience to occur. Either we can use our conscious potential for understanding to master this dynamic, or we can suffer from our attachment to unconscious forces.
Let’s consider our nutrition, movement and psychology for a moment. The reach of these aspects of our lives is far and tremendously deep. Their involvement in our ongoing development is inescapable. In fact, our eating, moving and thinking are actions that we commit contiuously, and are thus incredibly pervasive in their effects. This is a game we cannot avoid playing, as long as we are alive we are accumulating the effects of these actions. There is no out, bar death. We have to better understand these phenomena in order to make superior decisions, decisions that will result in our healing, growth and conscious liberation. These forces are inescapable causes of consequences that we will either harness for our healing, or we will fall victim to their harm. One or the other, never neither.
At the heart of the ethical principles laid out in ancient spiritual teachings was the fundamental comprehension that the greatest cost for careless behaviour is to ourselves. To avoid suffering we need to become master of ourselves; master of our actions, from thought, through speech, to action. Through this lens of ‘Karma’, analysing the implications of my behaviour on my physical vitality and conscious actualisation has brought incredible understanding, and I feel it may for you too.
This is a plea for us to take responsibility for our actions. Full responsibility. Especially for the sake of this incomprehensibly complex organic space-suit that each of us has been gifted for this life, and also the mind that belongs to it. This seems selfish at first, but even Gandhi asked us to be the change we wish to see. It is the most important place to start if we truly wish to change the world. If what I am saying resonates with you, and you can sense the truth in it for you too, then I urge you to look at your actions and decisions with an open and honest mind. What will be the actual implications of your actions? What are the unavoidable consequences of your choices? Institute change in your life by observing and analysing the causes that you set in motion, from moment to moment. Practice letting go of your attachment to what you think is fair, or unfair, what you think is normal, or not, or what you feel is familiar, and what feels dauntingly unknown. We have to be willing to unbecome who we are to become who we would like to be; our best self. This is a continual process of letting go of that which does not serve our highest good, knowing what is superior action, and having the inspiration and personal power to make change happen.
There is no free lunch in this universe; for every action there is a reaction. This is the reason that we must become more ethical in our behaviour. Poor conduct will create poor consequences. There is no escaping this. You may not understand how this operates within certain patterns in your life, or maybe you feel you do not have the power to make changes where there is potential to do so. Do not be disheartened and definitely don’t give up, ever, there is no acceptable alternative. I know it is my mission to further figure this out for my own evolution, and also to share with others what I learn on the way. This is my journey. Join me.
1 Paul, Richard; Elder, Linda (2006). The Miniature Guide to Understanding the Foundations of Ethical Reasoning. United States: Foundation for Critical Thinking Free Press. p. NP. ISBN 978-0-944583-17-3.