Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Ethics of Trying

A work colleague was chowing down on some Cheetos when I told him about the great deal I got on free range eggs (1doz for $3!). With a shudder he said: I don’t eat eggs. Ever since I got a double yolk I have wondered what they feed those chickens.”

I forget sometimes that some people still think that way or, better said, don’t correlate their actions with their words. I tried to explain to him that his reasoning was why I eat free range eggs but he didn’t or, perhaps, couldn’t hear me … he was too busy wiping the orange powder off his face.

This man is not alone. I know of others who bemoan the state of factory farming but still buy the meat and poultry it’s industry produces. And those who celebrate the interdependence of life but use (and throw away) plastic as if it was somehow not part of the human chain, a benign but so very useful concept. 

I am just as guilty. At home I wash and reuse plastic bags until they leak from overuse, I wrap my sandwiches in paper gone once through the printer, and always carry extra totes, but still …

At work, with no plastic recycling, I throw the oil by-product into the garbage. I hate doing it but its amazing how fast one gets immune to doing things they abhor. This denial of who we are with what we do is a distancing, a separation of self. It denies our humanity; how we fit into  community; and our interdependence with all living beings. Although this may sound melodramatic but I feel this subjective dissonance lies on the continuum of integrity with one end being a conscious congruency  and the other occupied by a morality that states, for example, its okay to be a concentration camp guard  because you are just trying to make a living.

When our actions separate ourselves out from who we are we become lost. We lose our moral reference points and the level ground that was once our foundation becomes a slippery slope of questionable ethics.

That said, it is usually not a fast slide nor even an absolute one. The thing is, we face these dilemmas quite often.  Some of us our conscious about them; others not so. My morality, for example, says theft is wrong.  Fine. But would I contact the tax department if they made a mistake in my favour? Not so sure I would but it makes me think of how far I am willing to go down that slope of dishonesty. Would I tell the store clerk she gave me too much back in change? (Yes) Would I let Canadian Customs know how much I really bought on my shopping trip down in the states? (Probably not). Although I do not think I am knocking on delinquency's door, I also believe that once we disrupt our inner and outer congruency, it gets easier to do it again. Which brings me back to my part-time job.

Why do I not initiate something at work—get off the downward slide and talk to management about recycling the plastic? My usual answer is that it will be useless, the conversation will go nowhere and I will end up looking the fool. The truth behind that answer, however, is apathy. Sure those things may happen but I don’t really know. Management may truly not care but it is up to me to try.  

And that is what we all must do. Instead of saying: nothing changes; doesn’t matter, or it will fall on deaf ears, we all still have to try. It will not only help us return to firm ground where  ethics match actions,  but it just may work.

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