Just how honest and moral are you?

This is a subject that seems to be on everyone’s mind at the moment and it is a big question as we all think we are as honest as the day is long. That we have a well developed moral compass and our integrity and ethics shine through. We are that person most people strive to be or are we?

I started thinking about the issue several weeks ago when I joined a Chartered Management Institute discussion on LinkedIn. It came to the forefront of my mind again when I watched the BBC programme Nick & Margaret “We all pay your benefits”.

We are all individuals and what each of us classes as moral or ethical differs. There are many factors that have a bearing on this including, upbringing, education, location, culture, religion, job or career and our peer group. That’s not an exhaustive list by the way.

Sat in the comfort of your living room you might think it disgusting and reprehensible that a man would eat a cat. That man may live in a country where poverty can mean death and the only way he and his family will see tomorrow is to eat the cat. You’re the one making the moral judgement he’s just eating to survive.

That’s an easy example and we all make value judgements about others on a daily basis. There are the usual “bankers have no morals” and “all estate agents are liars” to “all builders are cowboys”. Each of these has a grain of truth but they are generally just that, generalisations.  You could pick any job or group of people and find a generalised statement that “fits” if you want to.

The Nick & Margaret programme is a good example of this as four benefits claimants are paired up with four people who are working. The workers perceptions before meeting the claimants was that they might be lazy have given up or just want to live on benefits. By the end of the first programme most of their preconceptions had changed.

The British Government does not condone bribery and those found guilty can end up in prison.  But in some countries what we call bribery is oiling the wheels of industry and gaining introductions to business contacts.  So is the official who takes the payment (bribe) corrupt, has he lost his moral compass or integrity or is he simply a product of the system and culture he lives in?

Professor Nick Chater of Warwick University and BBC Radio Four’s The Human Zoo contends that “having a good character is not a permanent state and we are all in a constant battle against deceitful behaviour

Just to add to that argument last week my wife and I went to our favourite Indian restaurant Mahabharat and as usual the food, service and atmosphere was excellent.  When the bill came we realised that we had not been charged for a bottle of wine and duly called the waiter and paid for it.

On the way out my wife posed the question that had we been in a restaurant which we had not been in before or where the food or service had been average what would we have done?

We class ourselves as people who are honest, moral and have integrity but neither of us could give an honest answer to that question. So I hope we are never in that position.

I’ll leave the final comment to professor Chater “We all live in glass houses and shouldn’t be so quick to condemn those caught up in scandal


The Power of the Word – Poetry and Prayer

I read about the Poetry and Prayer Conference held at Heythrop College after co-authoring an article about the Catholic Church banning the musical note known as “The Devil’s Interval” in the 16th century.  Black Sabbath used the note effectively to create their demonic and nihilistic image But I digress.

The conference at Heythrop was attended by theologians, philosophers, literary scholars and creative writers and they debated the following questions:

  • What do poetry and prayer share?
  • How do they differ?
  • In what ways do they relate to each other?

Just as you would not think of linking the Church and Black Sabbath in the same sentence I had never thought of poetry and prayer in terms of each other and the effect they had on the person.

Whilst the conference discussed specific religious texts and works from particular authors and poets. I am more interested in the effect both have on your wellbeing and inner spiritual strength.  That spiritual strength does not necessarily need to come from religion. “W.H. Auden wrote: ‘to pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself. Whenever a man so concentrates his attention – on a landscape, a poem, a geometrical problem, an idol, or the True God – that he completely forgets his own ego and desires, he is praying.’”

Atheists may not agree with the viewpoint that they are praying when reading poetry which reinforces the point that we have no shared understanding of the terms ‘prayer’ and ‘poetry’. Yet as tourists many of them will attend a service at one of our historic cathedrals such as York or Wells and come away with a feeling of inner peace, tranquility or a feeling of spirituality if you like.  If you’re an atheist and you’ve had that feeling I’d be interested in knowing how you would describe it.

Poetry is obviously not prayer but I and many others have experienced the same feeling of elation, joy and of spirituality from both. So they differ but can elicit the same feeling in people of a religious and non religious nature. Does that mean they are related? Looking at a wider context Music, Art and the wonders of nature and the natural world can produce those same feelings in us all.

So is it the words rather than what they represent that is the connection between the two?

The Next Poetry and Prayer Conference : Continuities & Discontinuities takes place at Heythrop College 29-30 June 2012

Thanks to Heythrop College and Charlotte Henson for the inspiration in my writing this piece