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Creating the conditions for the successful practice of ethical principles

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This post is a follow-up to a previous post entitled “Ethics in a delicate situation: what do you think?”, which presented a hypothetical case study together with a poll, to which you can still participate (you might want to do so before reading further). Let us begin with a few remarks about the poll results: On both the French and the English versions of the site, choice e (There are no fundamental differences between helping others and devoting sufficient time to one’s spouse: Jack could have spent that evening exclusively with his wife and still be practicing ethics) has been by far the most popular, followed by choice b for the French version (The well-being of one’s spouse should always take precedence. It should be preferred to the well-being of others and even to one’s own well-being) and choice a for the English version (Efforts of generosity always meet obstacles that must be overcome to allow progress: Jack should have expected Kelly’s opposition and prepared himself better for this test in order to prevent any conflict). The numerous comments left under the post have generally been very critical of Jack’s behavior, to say the least, both on the substance—with many suggestions of failings, weaknesses and character imbalances that could explain his choices—and with regards to the procedure—in particular, the way he acted towards his wife. A lot of the comments have touched upon issues such as the ego, altruism, observing rights, a hierarchy of duties, the golden rule of ethics (putting oneself in other people’s shoes), intention, etc. Each of them have triggered very interesting developments.

The analysis here can be divided into three separate issues:

  1. the evaluation of the powers at play within each of the protagonists: what are the symptoms, which powers are manifesting themselves, what are the underlying character imbalances? In short: what is the diagnosis?
  2. the determination of what “the right thing to do” is: what are the ethical principles that either of the protagonists should ideally implement? What is the adequate treatment?
  3. more general conditions for a correct practice of these ethical principles. What are the conditions for the implementation of the treatment?

The first two issues are very contextual and it is up to each individual to reach their own conclusions, with the help of the common reflection provided via the comments. It is the third issue that we would like to further develop here. The idea is not to recommend a specific behaviour that would be generally adapted to the trials of daily life, no matter the context, but to reflect on a framework that provides general conditions for the practical implementation of ethics.

The framework of reference we present here consists of a set of recommendations for a successful practice. It is based on a chapter of Bahram Elahi’s book Medicine of the Soul (Cornwall Books, 2001), precisely entitled “The Practice of Ethics”. Under this approach, ethics is envisaged as an activity that can nourish and develop the soul, which is conceived as a psychospiritual organism. The nutrients are the ethical principles and their nutritional value has to be activated under certain conditions.

Conditions for the successful practice of ethical principles

What do you think?

If you are viewing this article from the mobile app, click here to participate in the poll.

Which of the following conditions for the practice of ethical principles had you identified in your initial analysis of the hypothetical?

Access directly to the poll results if you have already voted

Let us now leave Jack, Kelly and the ethical reflection based on this hypothetical: which of these conditions do you find most difficult to integrate in your own ethical practice?

Access directly to the poll results if you have already voted

Further readings:

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  1. A. Mar 11, 2014 7:43 am 1

    I have a practical question which is actually similar to the Jack/Kelly’s example: I have recently gotten up quite early in the morning to pray before dawn (around 5 AM), because I have noticed that my prayer has more of an effect then. As a result I ended up being quite tired during the day. During the week it was not too much of a problem because I could take a quick 15 mins nap when travelling (in trains). But during the weekend, since I have 3 children, it was out of the question to briefly take a nap and I ended up falling sound asleep (unwittingly) at 10 PM on Saturday just when my wife wanted to spend some time with me (I was also unwell with a sore throat). She was very upset by this and voiced her concerns. My conclusion was that my practice was not varied – since I did not take into account the consequences on my family life at the same time as I practiced devotion. Any thoughts on this?

    Maybe that my practice was also not balanced because systematically getting up early in the morning is an excess of devotion leading to disregarding the responsibilities I have towards my wife (as well as towards my body)

    (as a result of this experience I have obviously decided that I can no longer afford getting up before dawn when I am with the family during the weekends)

  2. run Mar 14, 2014 11:58 am 2

    Thanks for your experience.
    I think you you should continue your prayer early in the morning because, in terms of priorities, your soul and your body come first and then your family, etc. You have a sore throat and need to relax.

  3. AA Mar 14, 2014 2:52 pm 3

    @ A – I think Slide 11 of the presentation ‘Duties of Human Beings’ will confirm your decision to be the right one (in my opinion)


  4. kbld Mar 15, 2014 10:38 pm 4

    @A & AA
    The slide speaks about a ritual, a practice is a little bit different. However, it speaks also more generally, about the predominance of the rights of the others, there it matches.
    If you do not find another solution and your intention is good, I don’t think you should worry about sleeping the week-end. But often, there is a solution. Isn’t there a solution in order to not to be so tired. When you get up, you don’t go back to sleep (to be so tired)? You could just stay awake a little time… If you already did so, are you sure it’s the actual reason of your tiredness?
    I’m not trying to be pushy but to help…

  5. Jean-Jacques Stern Mar 16, 2014 12:09 am 5

    @A and @kbld
    I agree with kbld that choosing to pray at a certain time is per se no more than a ritual issue, not a matter of actual ethical and or spiritual practice; however, the ethical problem it poses in your case turns it into an ethical issue. We need rituals to be reminded of our spiritual life but it is also obvious that they have to be suited to our lifestyle and other constraints. Therefore, I think the best judge for this is yourself taking into account the advice and remarks of your wife. People who do not know the details of your life do not know the context and cannot really go beyond quoting a number of principles; even then, it is up to you to decide what role these principles should play in the global picture of your spiritual life…

  6. A. Mar 17, 2014 7:37 am 6

    Thank-you for pointing out the sldie – an excellent reminder indeed

    Thank-you also for your advise – indeed maybe a solution could be to stay awake only for a short time

    @Jean-Jacques Stern
    Thank-you – I agree, the ultimate decision rests in my hands

  7. run Mar 17, 2014 7:48 am 7

    I have many times made ​​a prayer program where I had to pray early morning, but many many times I had trouble waking up. But when I succeed, I am very happy.
    I think that (case) that a wife should support her husband in performing his prayers in the morning because it is good for the whole family. And when she sees that her husband is sick and tired, she should not complain, but be a little understanding and supportive.

  8. pzlz Mar 22, 2014 5:57 pm 8

    Beautiful slide presentation! Two things: 1) Ritual or not, I think partners in life should respect each other’s boundaries. 2) I don’t know where in this diagram, I can fit my problem of relapse? I learn about a diagnosis, I know the treatment, I decide to implement a treatment plan, start very strong for a week or two, and then bam! I relapse, go back to my old routines and habits, and it takes me for ever to get back on track. Any thoughts?

  9. run Mar 31, 2014 9:02 pm 9

    Thank you all for your comment, which made ​​me think a lot.
    pzlz @ I also have the problem of relapsing.

    I’ve also tried to give myself diagnoses and treatment, but I always end up relapsing.
    I’ve been thinking that there must be something wrong with my diagnosis.
    I tried in my analysis to take into account the “Conditions for the practice of ethics.”

    For example, if someone suffers from vitamin B1 deficiency, if the person understands the symptoms, then the treatment is easy because the person is motivated.
    The person must buy some vitamins B1 and for example take a pill every day. It’s not that hard.

  10. adissam Aug 01, 2014 10:01 pm 10

    From watching the animation “Duties of Human Beings”, my understanding is that the right of others outweighs our duty towards the Creator (i.e. “towards our soul” since He does not need our prayers).

  11. henry Aug 02, 2014 8:45 pm 11

    This is a very practical presentation.

    Towards the end this is further developed: “It should be pointed out that in fulfilling our duties towards the Creator –by, for instance, practicing a ritual– we must make sure that it does no damage to our body nor cause any discomfort or be a burden to those around us”…

  12. adissam Aug 04, 2014 7:43 pm 12

    If I disturb someone to perform a ritual then it would create a debt. And this would cause more harm than if I neglect my duty toward the Creator.

    Because only that person can clear my debt.

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