Part 1: We’re about to discuss an interesting hypothesis that highlights various ethical motives that can explain why conflict and opposition are often unavoidable. Where does your allegiance lie?
Let’s talk ethics. Every day, all around the world, we’re witnessing moral decisions being introduced to the human story from all angles. Billions of people forming ethical actions derived from religious scriptures, while others justify their acts from internal motivations. Wherever your moral compass happens to point, it seems quite clear that we all have differing opinions on what is right and wrong. A chaotic predicament that ensures the appearance of conflict under the right conditions.
I’m about to discuss a thought experiment of mine, that highlights the various motives that we all have in life that can hopefully explain why conflict and opposition are often unavoidable. We will explore the various different allegiances a person may align themselves with during their lifetime. Please use this resource to assist your own ethical questioning with matters relating to your Personal Sovereignty [Read: Personal Development Strategy] But before I discuss this hypothesis in detail, let us begin with a simple, hypothetical scenario:
Hypothetical: A Moral Examination
Unfortunately, you have just been informed on the phone from the local hospital that a loved one is in critical condition. They have suffered an accident at work and may not live to see another day. You rush to your car and proceed to the hospital immediately. Do you think that you’ll honour the speed limit? Will you disregard the law at times due to this extraordinary situation you’re in? Facing a realistic possibility that you’ll never see your loved one alive again? For many of you, I would suspect that this would be an easy decision to make.
I want you to now imagine this moment in more detail. Really think about the exact moment you turn out of your driveway and find yourself on a straight road, staring at the 30mph sign in front of you. And ponder the moment you decide to put more pressure on the accelerator as you’re internally justifying this action: nothing else matters now, my loved one is in danger.
This ethical agreement you have just made with yourself to justify this action is exactly what we’re going to discuss today. This internal perspective of what people determine to be right and wrong at any given moment to justify a decision on a wide range of subjects – (Politics, Relationships, Social etiquette etc) can often be the reason why conflict is unavoidable. Especially as it changes quite radically, based on new information that can become available at any given moment. Understanding that it is humans, YOU and I, who are continuously redefining these positions, each and every day – offers us the clarity to see the ethical spectrum for what is actually is. A divided moral battlefield with multiple players, all pushing to claim more territory for their respective positions, at the expense of alternative dogmas. We must become comfortable with this climate, and learn our position within it. Who do we align with? Who shares the same moral landscape as I do? Can we help one another achieve our goals? Those who ask themselves such questions are presented with an opportunity to transcend the limitations of individualism.
The Ethical Service Spectrum: Observing the Moral Battlefield
And this is exactly how we’re going to become comfortable within this moral climate. We’re going to learn about it, by employing a useful spectrum to define the ethical motivations behind human acts. Check out the following spectrum to determine exactly where one’s allegiance may be, upon somebody making a decision:Taking a look back at our hypothetical scenario above, I’ve placed an arrow on the scale where I believe the act of speeding to see a loved one in critical condition, could appropriately fit. A clear position of selfish love to another human being has formed the ideal conditions, for one to justify the act of putting other human lives at risk with their disregard of the law. We must understand that a person who is rationally attempting to justify this point from their position in an argument – will have a bloody hard time trying to justify their stance to somebody who is positioned elsewhere on this scale. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, really – and yet it does all the time. We’re always finding ourselves angered by the irrationality of others. Unable to grasp how somebody can be so selfish or foolish in their actions time and time again. The purpose of this article is to formulate a mindset that can better understand the moral convictions of others. The chaotic flip-flopping of human dissonance will no longer come as a surprise to anybody who understands this spectrum. Those who succeed in this area, also arm themselves with the diplomatic ability to find solutions from ethical divisions along with the valuable social skill to relate to the struggles of others.
Service to Self: Survival
Starting on the far left of our scale we begin by exploring the Service to Self category. Egoism is our first moral stance – This is the process of placing oneself at the core of one’s world with no concern for others. Note: This doesn’t have to be a permanently fixed position. As we’ve already determined with our hypothetical scenario above, to be loyally serving oneself in any particular action could be a rash decision based on the exposure to new information.
Survival: Service to Self: A man has just found out that his company is firing him, as his position can now be outsourced to a cheaper workforce, overseas. In this moment, the man becomes disillusioned by disloyal business practices. For the remaining 4 weeks of his employment, he decides to exploit certain generosities that are afforded to company employees. He begins by claiming more company expenses than he actually needs: (fuel, food and supplies etc) simply to enhance his own wellbeing during these unfortunate, uncertain times. fuck em’ They’re just a greedy corporate machine, I owe em’ nothing. Service to Self is the appropriate category in which our friend has now settled upon his decision.
Perspective: Service to Others: – This man is certainly not thinking of his colleagues by exploiting the generous expenses that have been provided to his team. Perhaps the company would now have to consider removing such a system in future, due to the clear exploitation at play. How could this man be so selfish? How would a conversation go between this man and a colleague of his, upon the discovery of these shenanigans?
“Dude, you haven’t lost your job, I have! You can afford your mortgage – How can you judge me?!”
No matter the objective reality of this situation (An employee has stolen company resources) this discussion will not often result in a rational conclusion. Just conflict and disagreement between two opposing parties due to the differing positions on our ethical battlefield.
Perspective: Service to a Higher Purpose: – What about the business? Where do they stand in this situation? A business is not normally formed for the sake of keeping its employees employed. A business is typically built around a grand objective (Normally just profit) Does an employee have a right to be angry when they’re no longer a part of this grand objective? Does employee loyalty come at a cost?
So how do we deal with this ethical battlefield? Where rationality is often absent. This is the world of politics and diplomacy. A battle to see where one’s opposition sits upon this scale and the ability to relate to an opponent’s position to reach a viable resolution. If you can’t sympathise with how another person aligns themselves on this scale with their actions, you’re destined to fail. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to accept their position or give in to their demands. But the other person needs to understand that you’re aware of how they came to their position. Only then can you attempt the second phase; getting them to understand your position. At any point in this process, you may fail. Either due to your inability to properly explain your situation, or their inability to be open minded to someone else’s perspective. This is where conflict is inevitable, you can do everything right, but fundamentally, diplomacy requires everyone to be onboard with this concept.
If both parties can come to understand one another’s stance, then they can begin to seek a resolution immediately. Compromise may often be required by either side to reach a positive outcome. But depending on how far away the issue is split across this spectrum, will likely determine the complexity and scale of compromise required by a single side to reach a positive solution.
Now before we move onto the next category, it’s important to understand why somebody might make decisions in Service to Self positions. Why would somebody be utterly selfish in their actions? Survival. And this isn’t a bad thing. In various cases, Service to Self is a critical component to success. In an environment that doesn’t offer safety, resources, opportunity or knowledge, one might have to become ethically self-centered in order to enhance their position and ultimately improve their impoverished lifestyle.
Service to Others: Looking Outside of Your Castle
We’re finally looking outwards towards our family, community or nation as we move along the ethical spectrum. When we begin to look outwards, we’re looking to connect with those who share similar values to us. Building strong, lasting, relationships that are built on trust – held together by the belief that we share similar goals in the grand game of life.
This world of ours continuously surrounds us with other humans (Often our neighbours) that oppose some of the fundamental viewpoints that we have. Especially with the rise of globalisation. If you find yourself living in a place like London, your apartment complex might consist of ferocious capitalists, plotting communists, religious extremists, charitable saints – All living under the same roof, motivated by moral codes collected from all around the world. And we wonder why the concept of community is fading? The modern man is often confused, unaware of who to trust within a complex, urban environment that continuously exposes him to ethical positions that differ so extremely from his own. Not even his nation state offers refuge anymore – How can one be loyal to a state that easily disregards what it stands for in the face of economic opportunism? A tiring predicament for men with a strong sense of virtue without a tribe to call their own.
Politics: Where do you stand?
When dealing with matters relating to others, you’ll have to get political from time to time. If you take a political stance, your ethical agreement to justify this position will place you somewhere along our ethical scale. Perhaps different beliefs of yours are scattered along the spectrum. I would suspect that inconsistency and large leaps between your beliefs across the spectrum are a sure sign of an unorganised mind. Clarity of your ethical code should bring more order to your positions.
Many external contributors will be in play which will determine why somebody chooses their position on the spectrum (Either knowingly or unknowingly) Cultural pressure, education, finances, identity politics, social pressure, the media and many more factors will be in play to determine where one ultimately settles their ethical flag.
Hypothetical: Paul, The Small Town Man
So let’s imagine a man by the name of Paul who lives in a small town. Paul has spent most of his living life within the boundaries of this small town environment. He is friendly, highly respected by the community, knows the majority of the residents by name and holds an unquestionable allegiance to his nation. Now, if Paul’s Government was suddenly faced with a situation that warranted a political act that could cause suffering for Paul, how would his patriotism hold up? Will he remain committed to his nation’s grand vision? Or will his own survival take priority? Let’s keep moving with this hypothetical tale to offer us more food for thought.
The Government plans to shut down the local town coal mine to honour their clean energy policies. Paul now contemplates the impact of this policy and the immediate ramifications towards his town’s wellbeing. His friends will lose their jobs, the local economy will suffer immensely due to its dependence on the coal industry, it’s just bad news all round. Paul is justifiably angry and concerned. Perhaps Paul is now in a state of cognitive dissonance? Paul has spoken favourably of clean energy policies before, but this is different – Paul’s well-being and the prosperity of his community are now at stake.
On the above image, the red area shows the approximate range of effect that this policy could morally impact somebody living within this town. Paul’s previous political commentary was the [Green Arrow] – Service to a Higher Purpose. A patriot who would always talk about the greater good to his friends. But now, Paul must step up. His dissonance demands him to take a position. People around him are angry, they’re suffering – Where does Paul stand ethically in this situation? Does he stay true to his word? Or does he disregard his previous rhetoric to embrace a more pragmatic, survival-based position?
The virtue test
Now, this is where it gets tricky, and the true virtue of man is tested. Paul looks upon the consequences of his Government’s decision to close down the mine. We will now see exactly how Paul faces this challenge with his actions. Paul either stands by his ethics and accepts the position he has stood for with virtue or he can falter due to the nature of the problem and resort to conventional survival tactics to regain his wellbeing by swinging back to the left. This is a test that life provides to many regularly; to stand resolute during dark times by honouring your word and your ethical position. And if you fail this test? It means you had no business believing what you claimed you stood for, so why were you there in the first place? Your stance was likely a mask to hide your inherent Service to Self or to simply gain respect from peers who differ in opinion. Hypocrisy is one of the surest ways to spot a person who is unjust and lacks an internal structure of critique and clarity. The life of a hypocrite is simple, uncritical and is worthy of no respect. Paul’s strong patriotism may turn out to an illusion; crumbling at the very moment his nation demands his cooperation.
It doesn’t really matter what Paul decides to do. He isn’t real. But Paul represents you, me, and everyone in this world who will face similar ethical dilemmas in our lives. It’s not enough, to aimlessly flip-flop between ethical allegiances with a blatant disregard for consistency. Ethical consistency is the force that creates internal clarity, it allows one to walk through an uncertain world with confidence. Knowing that in the chaotic state of things, you’re grounded. In your own principals. That you can laugh at the obstacles of life, knowing that you’re playing this game on your own terms. A true philosopher that is striving to find happiness in the only place it can be found.
We’ve now moved into the final category in our ethical service spectrum. A humbling position where one aligns their ethical foundation with forces beyond their own personal interests. This begins with a complete self-submission to the collective vision of humanity; with political interests now fully aligned with the progression of our species.
When we continue to move to the end of our spectrum, we reach the complete ethical submission to the forces of nature; our existence and purpose is selfless and often aligns with a belief of the gods or a cosmological vision. Here you will typically find the most devoted followers of numerous religions across our entire planet. I believe this area of ethics will become increasingly more significant in the future, as the human race continues to learn about its position within the cosmos. When mankind begins to explore our neighbouring star systems, it must ask itself, what is our grand purpose within the cosmos? What will be our stance, as we ponder the possibility of one-day encountering intelligent lifeforms, who have defined their own ethical position – that may or may not be hostile towards our own?
So what can we do with this analysis of ethics? How does compartmentalising one’s morals into a spectrum help us day to day? After all, aren’t ethics subjective? Is there an objective right and wrong? We will touch upon this in Part 2 of our Conflict and Ethics series as I’ll attempt to address this very point. This first part of our ethical series provided you with a framework to observe and understand the chaotic nature of the human ethical battlefield through an impartial perspective. By understanding how a person internally justifies their position, we can hope to better understand their actions and use this information to reach more diplomatic solutions.
“If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own.”
— Henry Ford