Tag Archives: ethics

An Economy of Trust II

Connections.  The connections I see when I drive over a newly constructed bridge in the United States have to do with pride in workmanship, integrity in professionalism—no matter where one stands on the socio-economic ladder—and an adherence to values as a culture that we, in general, strive to live, build, create and sustain not only for ourselves and our immediate needs but for the greater good of our posterity.  This is why the newer bridges I drive over are higher, wider and stronger.  We are thinking not only about ourselves and our immediate needs, but also about what is best in the long-term.

Spirituality

In contrast, when an economy is fractured by corruption and moves into a state of duality—or another more complex configuration—(and I am unsure of the cause-effect relationships here) the very nature of base-line social connections at work, to one another and our concepts of integrity begin to change radically.  And, when an economy continues to function with a shrug or a nod toward petty theft and corruption, ethical numbness sets in.  In my experience, trust is lost in these cultures—trust in the economy and trust in social relationships.  Social connections in cultural contexts with active black markets are about making “friends” for purposes of personal economic survival or gain because what is needed–on a material level—cannot be procured reliably at a store or through official means of work.

Ethical numbness is a disquieting set of two words.  As things stand now, in the context of my regional backyard, I still hold trust that you and I will both stop at the next red light,  follow safety codes governing new construction, that the large collection of library materials, we hold in common, will be available for check-out and that the average person remains steady in honoring the principles of pride in workmanship, integrity to use work materials for and at work and that our commitment to service is genuine.  This is why I feel safe driving across a new bridge.

Ultimately, the only thing we as individuals may truly safeguard in any market is our personal integrity.  And, personal integrity has the opportunity to travel to work with us in our lunch pails every day.  Integrity means that the sausage, should I choose to purchase meat, is made of up of what is on an accurately labeled product.  Integrity means that the requisite cement bags and steel at a work site remain at the assigned location to be used in the designated building project.  Integrity means performing with professionalism for the hours we have clocked in to work.

Functioning in this way, with attentiveness to professionalism and integrity, often produces spontaneous purple waves of gratitude and amber waves of awe while driving down some new and beautiful stretch of road.

An Economy of Trust I

Driving across a new four-lane bridge, I feel an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude for the solid safety and engineering of the structure.  Forty feet below and off to the side, I see the old retired bridge, a narrow, two-lane affair, which has stood for about fifty years.  The new bridge is one of many structures being upgraded and expanded on this stretch of highway.  The entire road is being upgraded through a general widening, heightening, as well as the systematic replacement of older bridges which are being improved as a public safety measure in order to better handle additional traffic and potential flood waters.

Spirituality

Generally, when driving across new bridges, I do not experience purple mountains of gratitude or amber waves of awe.  These emotions are conjured because of my experiences of living in foreign cultures with alternate economies.  Academics and theorists might have us believe that economies are cold-blooded constructs devised for the discussion of resource acquisition, distribution, manufacture and the consumption of goods.  Yet, economies are created, shaped, upheld, corrupted or sustained by people and their behaviors.  Economies are in fact warm-blooded.

In countries where there are dual systems of economic distribution—both the official and the black markets, the black market often pulls its resources or goods from the official system.  There was a running joke in one of the countries, where I was a student that addressed this very issue:  Do you know why there are no stray animals around a sausage factory?  They have to get the meat from somewhere.

The “official cuts of meat” slated to make it from farm to factory to table were frequently commandeered through petty theft by workers along the official chain of production, transportation and manufacture.  Thus, the “sausage” making its way to the official supermarkets apparently had substantial portions of unofficial fillers—stray animals, paper and who-knows-what.  One close friend, living in this economy full-time and preferring to purchase imported sausage when it was available, noted that even her dog would not eat the domestic sausage from the grocery store.

Issues of petty theft and corruption, inherent in economies where the black market is strong, do not stop with sausage production.  Where there is an active, dual-system economy in operation, construction sites also might see a few bags of cement disappear or several lengths of steel go missing.  These materials then show up in personal building projects or on the black market to be traded or sold for other goods or services that the average person might not otherwise be able to access (e.g. tickets to a cultural or sporting event).  And, the bridge or high-rise building being constructed goes without the structural benefit of these materials.  The appearance of the bridge or high-rise might match the proposed completed structure on a set of blueprints, but the reality is that these projects are not necessarily complete or structurally sound.

To be continued.

Greed: An Ancient Tale

Packed in our car, we three—husband, wife and infant child—are headed east for another academic summer of intensive foreign language study. Both rear-view mirrors are in constant use, as no one can see beyond the boxes of books, belongings and the dual coolers holding the sum of our trip provisions. Precious among the cooler items is a single, large loaf of homemade chocolate-chip, banana bread, a raving party-tray favorite. It makes an exceptionally rich breakfast food. I plan to share part of that one loaf, the first morning out, with a dear friend who always put us up for a night whether we are heading east or west.

Dragging in at a very late hour, my dear friend meets us all graciously, even though we three are damp with sweat from the late June heat. Showers are had. An extra bed with fresh sheets is turned down for us. Husband and child are put to bed. I stay up later still to visit with my friend.

How are you? How did you find this place? Who and how is your new roommate? Are you happy? I did not realized how much I missed my friend until we sit alone together conversing in half whispers. At 2:00 am I patter off to bed, damp again from the heat, overly late conversation and wee hour.

At 10:00 am the next morning, as we finish our breakfast together, I begin repacking the coolers. My friend hints about keeping the rest of the chocolate-chip, banana bread.

“I’ll leave you an extra slice,” I say. My mind fancies itself generous. My heart cramps with stinginess.

“It’s so rich. Do you think it will last in this heat?” my friend gently hints once more.

“Oh, I think it will be okay in the cooler,” I reply turning a deaf ear to his subtle request.

One day and two states later, I open the remaining half loaf to the stench of chocolate-chip-banana-beyond-wine-bread featuring small pockets of foul liquid like unctuous pock marks in a brown field of contaminated soil. Inedible. What a miserly fool I was.

Share often. Give generously.

Spirituality
Spirituality

A House with Children

Walking the dogs through the neighborhood, I appreciate the street’s quiet and fresh air. The dogs and I meet a rare vehicle or two. There is only moderate foot traffic and a few bicycles here and there. Most everyone waves or nods a hello.

What causes the most noise in our neighborhood is what happens domestically in and around the edges of houses. This particular neighborhood suffers terribly from the noise, static and discordant sounds of a multitude of voices in inefficient and angry communication with one another. There are words of harshness, betrayal and abuse.

When we first moved into this region, we had come from the American Southwest where the code of ethics among certain local First-Nation peoples required that extra attention be paid to the issue of speech because, it is believed, a person has the power to talk things into being.

There is also one First-Nation group that follows a no-gossip policy because it is considered unethical to talk about anything which one has not witnessed directly; and, if one has witnessed something, that “something” should not be talked about unless the witness is asked to report about it directly.

Thus, unbeknownst to us at the time, we had spent a full five years—de facto—living in a community which was like an exclusive monastic retreat . This unique culture around speech invited us to reassess our own habituated and inefficient patterns of communication. Thus, on some days in our new location, it seems as though we are growing quieter while the neighborhood around us grows louder.

Spirituality
Spirituality

One day among my many walks stands out above all others, while reveling in the beauty of the weather, breathing deeply and walking with my dogs, I witness two young children come running out of a house into the middle of a quiet street crossing.

There is a lot of shouting coming from the front door that has swung open as a result of the children’s departure. Fear and terror are in the eyes of the older boy. The younger boy has opted out emotionally, working to file this event away somewhere in his clay-like psyche rather than deal with it.  How can he?  The older boy, perhaps six years of age, approaches me. Fear having taken his words away.

“Do you need some help?” I ask him, not really knowing what else to say or do.

He nods at me, still mute with fear.

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

I feel that calm stillness that accompanies me when I am in alignment. So, I decide to proceed to the house with the dogs beside me.

Stepping onto the porch with both dogs, I witness a huge man through the open door. He is perhaps two-hundred and eighty pounds, pinned on the floor of the living room with another huge man and a leaner woman  both on top of the downed man, pummeling the downed man with closed fists and shouting about how the downed man “needs to get his sh*t” out of the house.  An issue regarding rent or living circumstances might be involved. (This is surmised conjecture.)

“Do you folks need some help?” I ask from the open doorway, being careful not to step over the threshold.

For a moment the physical assault stops. The pummeling stops long enough for the man under attack to be able to right himself and run to the back of the house with the other two individuals in close pursuit while the verbal assault continues. At this point, I leave the porch to reenter the street where the older boy is waiting.

“I am sorry that I cannot do more than that,” I tell him. He nods in silence.

The large man under siege is now out of the house and in the process of leaving in his car. The emotion around the incident hangs in the air.

I begin the walk away from the house with my dogs, leaving the violent, confusing, irrational, raw emotion that permeates those people, their circumstances, the house and its vicinity. Calmness returns to me again.

People. Things. Things. People. “People and their sh*t,” as they say. When will we learn to bring our calm, adult Selves to the table?

Perhaps it is unethical for me to report this to you. I have considered that. You did not ask me about my walk on that day or the status of things in parts of my extended neighborhood.

I tell you about this experience because there were children involved—there are children involved. 

We, as human beings, still need a lot of help with basic communication skills, learning how to read and understand our emotions, as well as how to address uncomfortable circumstances and unethical behaviors with diplomacy. We need help with ethics and peace, because there are always children involved-watching and learning.