Personal Ethics

 

 

God is good relations between people.  

Percy Hammond

 

The practice of morality (çīla) consists in the observance of all moral precepts; in feeling fear, shame and remorse at the smallest violation of any of them; in not giving room for blame or disgust; in practicing those deeds wihch lead to moderation and contentment, and in endeavouring to induce all human beings to abandon evil and practise virtue.  He alone truly practises morality, who desists from evil-doing when the best opportunities present themselves for doing evil.  In Buddhism the moral life is of fundamental importance.  Of all the pāramitās, the excellences which form the means of arriving at Nirvana, the çīla pāramitā is the foundation.  

P. Lakshmi Narasu – “The Essence of Buddhism”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolutionary basis of the ethics of Perfect Compassion

 

...the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

Paul the Apostle – Romans 2:15

 

Perfect Compassion can be seen as an alternative definition of fairness: of ensuring that everyone in a given situation (i.e. the one that you create with your actions) is treated as they deserve.  

Helping in response to need is conceptually simple (empathy and compassion), but fairness is complicated and depends on a number of other principles.  

Perfect Compassion incorporates the following principles:  

 

What makes people want to treat us this way?  Empathy.  Others can instinctively understand that, like them, we want to maximise our own thriving, we cherish this thriving, and we need this cherishing of our thriving to be respected.  

This idea of personhood therefore contains, perhaps, three needs: the need to thrive, the need for others to respect our need to thrive, and the need for others to respect our cherishing of our thriving.

In order for a cooperative mission to be successful, there has to be a joint commitment by all concerned: to play one’s part as diligently and competently as possible; to see the project through to the end; to help one’s partners along the way; and to share the rewards fairly and to everyone’s mutual satisfaction, considering the self-other equivalence, mutual respect and equal deservingness.  Without a firm commitment from all concerned, it may be too risky to begin the mission or venture, and nobody succeeds.  

The result, in modern-day psychological terms, is that the need to make a firm commitment to cooperative partners is internalised, and as a part of regulating ourselves in the direction of cooperation, we feel a sense of responsibility for our actions.  

In Perfect Compassion, this sense of responsibility and accountability translates into a certain kind of targeted helping: helping in response to the possible need created by your actions.  More to the point, this is helping in response to the need not to create a bad situation in the first place: the need of the person to thrive; the need to maximise available benefit and minimise available harm.  

Through your actions, you contribute to conditions which lead to benefit or harm in others.  It is you who will properly be held accountable for your part in this.  If you have harmed someone when you did not need to, or even failed to benefit them when they needed it and you could have helped, you can personally expect to run foul of people’s sense of right and wrong.  

In this context, the helping is in response to someone’s need to be treated as a person (to have their biological need to thrive respected).  

Empathy is linked in the brain to taking action: when we recognise need, and if we approve of the person, then we are motivated to try to help them, even if we do not ultimately act on that motivation.  

 

 

Possible real-world advantages of using Perfect Compassion

 

... dopamine-related neural pleasure centers in human brains are stimulated when someone acts generously or responds to a generous act.  

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy – “Mothers and Others – the evolutionary origins of mutual understanding”

 

we feel a “warm glow”, a pleasurable feeling, at improving the plight of others

Frans de Waal – “The Age of Empathy”

 

Without prosocial emotions, we would all be sociopaths, and human society would not exist, however strong the institutions of contract, governmental law enforcement, and reputation.  

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis – “Origins of Human Cooperation”

 

If you use Perfect Compassion in your actions, and if people notice, they are likely to approve of your behaviour.  If you don’t use it, people are likely to disapprove.  

If you use it habitually, other people are likely to think of you as a good person and want to be around you and help you when you need it.  This is especially true if you have those special extra ingredients: strength, courage, and wisdom (knowledge of how to produce the best results).  

If you habitually fail to use it, other people are likely to see you as a problem and to avoid you and not feel like helping you if you need it.  Again, a lack of courage is seen as letting the side down.  

This all depends on being surrounded by people who “know what’s what” and who try to live up to good values – i.e. people whose opinion you can respect.  

 

Benefits for your own environment  

We would all like to live in a caring environment.  Kindness spreads by reciprocity.  “If all are cared for, then I am cared for.”  

Perfect Compassion causes the least possible trouble for everyone around you, and the maximum positivity.  

 

Doing what’s right  

To follow Perfect Compassion means to satisfy the most primitive of our evolved moral principles: our own and others’ most fundamental moral sense.

 

Valuing each person

Perfect Compassion upholds the idea that each person is inherently valuable in their own right: as a self-generating source of flourishing, which a normally empathic person instinctively respects.  In using it we respect the dignity of the individual and the fact that each of us cherishes our own flourishing.  

 

Reciprocity

If you treat people badly when you don’t need to, they WILL want to get their revenge in some way, even if they eventually decide to forgive you and move on.  

He who loves others, must also be loved by others.  He who benefits others, must also be benefited by others.  He who hates others, must also be hated by others.  He who injures others, must also be injured by others.  

Mo Tzu, 479–381 BC

 

Reputation

A good reputation is your best friend: difficult to earn, easy to lose.  

 

Moral authority

Perfect Compassion carries and bestows moral authority, since from the point of view of kindness and fairness, it is impossible to improve on it.  

 

Psychological health

Because we are human beings, it is psychologically hard on a normal individual to behave unnecessarily negatively towards those around them.

Cicero gave this speech to the Roman Senate in 63 BC, about Cataline who had been plotting to overthrow the government:  

 

You came a little while ago into the senate; in so numerous an assembly; who of so many friends and connections of yours saluted you?  If this in the memory of man never happened to anyone else, are you waiting for insults by word of mouth, when you are overwhelmed by the most irresistible condemnation of silence?  Is it nothing that at your arrival all those seats were vacated?  That all the men of consular rank, who had often been marked out by you for slaughter, the very moment you sat down, left that part of the benches bare and vacant?  With what feelings do you think you ought to bear this?  On my honour, if my slaves feared me as all your fellow citizens fear you, I should think I must leave my house.  Do you not think you should leave the city?  

Cicero

 

The point is not that your slaves might murder you.  But can you really count on the loyalty and goodwill of those whom you may have treated less than properly?  How might it make you feel, if you are surrounded by people you have wronged?  Insecure, under attack, miserable?  

It makes us feel stronger to treat others properly, since the whole point of morality is mutual thriving.  

Some of the health benefits of helping others

 

Avoiding disaster

You may knowingly do something wrong but think it doesn’t matter because it seems relatively trivial (or you imagine you won’t get caught).  However, “no good comes of no good”, and all it takes is an unlucky line-up of circumstances, and the negative consequences of your action can become amplified and spiral out of control, and possibly ruin your life or that of someone else.  

 

Actions and consequences

When we act, we have no way of knowing for sure how the consequences will turn out.  How do we ensure the best possible results?  

 

“a policy for achieving your goals” – Ayn Rand

Virtues such as strength, courage, wisdom, kindness, sensitivity etc. uphold and support our efforts to do what we think is right.  

 

There are perhaps two kinds of self-control relevant to morality.

  1. Cooperative self-regulation.  We monitor and regulate our own behaviour to ensure that we are good cooperators and team players, and we attempt to manage our reputations.  
  2. Moderation and self-restraint.  Thriving – feeling good – is classified into the short term and long term.  When our emotions are running high – when certain goals are first and foremost in our attention, and we very much want or don’t want something – there is a lot of pressure to feel good right now, in the short term, by achieving that goal or having that thing.  Right now, for example, I might really want a triple whisky.  But I have to attend an important job interview in an hour’s time.  So it makes sense in the long term for me to save the drink for after the interview.  

 

Greed

An inordinate and insatiable desire.  Wanting something too much, not being able to let go.  

Hatred

A desire to cause unnecessary harm.

Ignorance

Not being in full possession of the facts.  

 

No good comes of no good.  

Buddhism teaches that the unwholesome roots are like “seeds of destruction” that will lead to the eventual failure of whatever you are trying to do.  

 

Don’t be a fool to yourself

You have rights too.  It’s foolish to let yourself get taken advantage of, or exploited.  

Pema Chodron – Don't practice Idiot Compassion!

 

 

Optimum strategies for achieving long-term well-being for each person affected by your actions (ie. good morals)

A moral action is one that affects yourself or others.  Amoral means not to care whether you are ethical.  Ethics are the best behaviours.  

These are the optimum strategies for the different aspects of morality:

Compassion:  perfect compassion: each person affected by your action is to receive the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them.

Compassionate outcome:  aim for the compassionate outcome where everyone stays friends and the least possible damage is done in the long term.  

God's love, the Healing Principle:  help yourself.  Help God to help you, as it were.  Practice self-compassion.  Take positive steps to improve your life.  Nurture and grow yourself, and others, like flowers.  

Reciprocity and forgiveness:  tit for tat.  People tend to treat you how you treat them.  What you do to or for someone, they will want to return in kind.  If someone does you a favour you feel obliged to return it.  If you do someone wrong, you feel obliged to put it right.  The optimum strategy for reciprocity is to start off nice, and then to forgive, most of the time, but not all the time, when people transgress.  

Fairness:  equality (supposedly favoured by women) which means everyone gets the same; proportionality (supposedly favoured by men) which means everyone gets what they "deserve" or have "earned".  Fairness implies impartiality, that each person deserves equal respect as a human being.  All beings want to be happy.  

Duty and integrity:  have good morals.  Be straight.  The consequences of failing to have good morals can be disastrous and the consequences of even a small lapse can easily spiral out of control.  Follow your conscience even when nobody will know.  

Keep your word.  

 

All I have in this world is my b***s and my word, and I don’t break ‘em for no one.  

Tony Montana – “Scarface”

 

Make your word your bond.  Do what you said you were going to do.  

Self-control:  this is all about short term versus long term consequences.  It is best not to ruin your long-term chances for short term gain.  A mature ego can exercise delayed gratification for the sake of long term benefits.  

Emotional self-control:  life is better if we can handle difficult emotions, and we are more reliable and trustworthy.  

Short and long term consequences:  what we want in the short term may conflict with what we want in the long term.  The short term only lasts a short while, but the long term lasts for a significant portion of your life.  A decision may come down to a trade-off between different possible courses of action.  

Good manners:  use good manners, to put others at their ease and to show that you have self-control, kindness and decency.  Be good-natured.  It is easier on people’s nerves, and an act of compassion.  

 

Whoever will thrive, must be courteous, and begin in his youth.

Early English Meals and Manners Part 93

(includes two passages of modern English translation)

 

Generosity:  be generous.  Celebrate God’s love.  Have a little party with God’s love.  Human beings are a generous species.  Spontaneous giving and helping are a fundamental part of human nature.  

Generosity, and the ability to handle difficult emotions calmly, sends the message to people that you care about, that you have their back when it’s necessary.  

 

generosity ... is at the heart of give and take in human attachments.

Penny Spikins – “How Compassion Made Us Human – the evolutionary origins of tenderness, trust & morality”

 

Gratitude:  practice gratitude.  

 

Gratitude is free happiness.  

Anonymous

 

Intentions:  make sure your intentions are free from “mental defilements” (greed, hatred and ignorance, according to Buddhism).  No good comes of no good.

Insight:  truth, information, awareness, understanding, empathy (mind-reading) – have them.  These are needed to understand a situation or a person.  Take an intelligent long-term view of a situation.  

Don’t let yourself be exploited, abused or taken advantage of.  If you can take harmless evasive action, then do so.  Make the most of the situation to stay happy and peaceful at any cost; or rather, at the least cost to yourself and your loved ones.  

Admitting when you’re wrong:  you get respect for being able to say you’re wrong, and none for trying to pretend you’re right when you know you’re not.  To admit that you’re wrong saves everyone time and trouble, including yourself.  

Good grace:  whether you win or lose, do it with good grace.  Don’t give somebody a hard time about it either way.  

Kindness to strangers:  we should all be kind to strangers and people who mean nothing to us, because then they may be kind to us.  Even if they are not, we all want to live in a world where everyone is kind to strangers and those to whom they feel indifferent.  Kindness spreads.  

 

 

 

The Stakeholder Principle

 

I won’t leave ‘til you come too.

Incredible String Band – “Mr and Mrs”

 

... friends in the stone age depended on one another for their very survival. Humans lived in close-knit communities, and friends were people with whom you went hunting mammoths. You survived long journeys and difficult winters together. You took care of one another when one of you fell sick, and shared your last morsels of food in times of want. Such friends knew each other more intimately than many present-day couples.

The Guardian – “Were we happier in the stone age?”

 

Perhaps it is time to abandon the idea that individuals faced with others in need decide whether to help, or not, by mentally tallying up costs and benefits.  These calculations have likely been made for them by natural selection.  Weighing the consequences of behavior over evolutionary time, it has endowed primates with empathy, which ensures that they help others under the right circumstances.  

Frans de Waal – “The Age of Empathy”

 

In the early history of humans, it would have made practical sense from the point of view of each individual to help the others upon whom they depended to live.  An expression to describe this “stakeholder” model of altruism has been proposed:  

s × B > C

“I will help you when the benefit I gain from your well being is greater than the cost I incur in helping you.”

B = your well being

s = my stake in your well being (the good effect that you have on me)

>    is greater than

C = my cost

 

P loves Q if Q‘s happiness is necessary for P’s happiness.  

Philip Veasey

 

Plausibly, it is these ancient conditions of tight interdependence that have led to the evolution of the generalised altruistic instincts of modern human beings.  

 

Outside of the family, personal loyalty somehow has to be earned, and the quickest way to do that is to be someone who is an asset to the lives of others by behaving in a prosocial and moral fashion.  

This mathematical statement implies that we invest in a person according to how valuable to us they are, and how much we depend on them.  The benefit we receive in return for this investment often lies in the other person just being themselves without having to do anything specific to pay us back.  We develop a warm positive regard and emotions towards those who benefit us, leading us to do helpful things in return.  

 

Only know that I love strength in my friends and greatness.

James Liddy

 

... individuals should help friends without looking for a contingent return: ‘instead of being cheated, the primary risk is experiencing a world increasingly devoid of deeply engaged social partners or sufficiently beneficial social partners or both’.

Gilbert Roberts (University of Newcastle upon Tyne) – “Cooperation through interdependence”

 

Hamilton’s Rule

This expression, the Stakeholder Model, is a version of Hamilton’s Rule, which deals with a similar situation from the viewpoint of genetic relatedness.  Both versions, if you think about it, are from the point of view of “inclusive fitness”.

Hamilton’s Rule states that an organism will help its relatives to the degree that they are genetically related, because the more they are related, the more genes they share, and in helping its relatives, the organism is helping its own genes to survive.  Hamilton’s Rule is given as

r × B > C

“I will help you when the amount by which it benefits the genes we share is greater than the cost I incur in helping you”.  

B = your benefit

r =  the proportion of genes that we share

>    is greater than

C = my cost

 

 

 

“Ultimate” and “proximate” motivations –

ancient evolution and modern psychology

The original reasons why a motivation evolved are separate from the way we experience that motivation in everyday life today.  When dealing with our friends and family, we tend not to consciously make detailed calculations of cost and benefit like those above.  Instead, we just feel good about helping them freely without any real thought of return.  

 

 

 

Self-interest and the interests of others

You have the duty to yourself and others to take care of yourself and your own interests.  If you don’t help yourself, no-one else can help you, since they are trying to fill a bottomless vessel.  

Inclusive fitness:  your genes are designed for you to take care of yourself and your loved ones.  Morality does not make sense otherwise (if each is required to give more to others than themselves, what right do others have to take from them?  This would need a specialised army of helpers.).  Inclusive fitness is the way the world works, and kindness and service to strangers is a thing of beauty, and necessary in our modern interdependent world.  

 

Even from a practical point of view, for someone to develop genuine compassion towards others, first he or she must have a basis upon which to cultivate compassion, and that basis is the ability to connect to one’s own feelings and to care for one’s own welfare.  If one is not capable of doing that, how can one reach out to others and feel concern for them?  Caring for others requires caring for oneself.  

... just as you have the spontaneous wish to be happy and overcome suffering, so does every other being, in equal measure.  ... This basic aspiration arises in us simply by virtue of the fact that we are conscious living beings.  Together with this aspiration comes a conviction that I, as an individual, have a legitimate right to fulfil my aspiration.  If we accept this, then we can relate the same principle to others and we will realize that everyone else shares this basic aspiration too.  Therefore, if I as an individual have the right to fulfil my aspiration, then others, too, have the right to fulfil theirs.  It is on these grounds that one has to recognize the fundamental equality of all beings.  

... I can tell you that when I practice altruism and care for others, it immediately makes me calmer and more secure.

... one of the by-products of helping others is that you also benefit yourself.    

... when we talk about altruism and about others' well-being, we should not imagine this means totally rejecting our own self-interest, neglecting ourselves or becoming some passive non-entity.  This is a misunderstanding.  In fact, the kind of altruism that focuses on the well-being of others comes about as a result of a very courageous state of mind, a very expansive attitude and a strong sense of self - so much so that the person is capable of challenging the self-cherishing self-centredness that tends to rule our life.  In order to do that, we need to have a strong sense of self and genuine courage because these tendencies seem so deeply embedded in us.  

I think it's very important not to misunderstand what is meant in the Buddhist teachings by the idea of overcoming our self-cherishing attitudes.  We are not saying that a spiritual practitioner should completely ignore or abandon the goal of self-fulfilment, rather we are advising him or her to overcome that small-minded selfishness that makes us oblivious to the well-being of others and to the impact our actions can have on them.  It is this kind of selfishness that is being targeted, not the kind of selfishness that seeks fulfilment of one's deeper interests.  

His Holiness the Dalai Lama – “Transforming the Mind – Eight verses on generating compassion and transforming your life”

The teaching “love thy neighbour as thyself” is not only vague, but may also lead to mischievous consequences.  If a man love himself meanly, childishly, timidly, even so shall he love his neighbour.  If a man hate himself, it must follow that he hate others too.  The teaching of Buddhism is definite, and requires us to love ourselves with a love that is healthy and wise, that is large and complete.  To be effectually generous one must have a confident, tranquil and clear comprehension of all that one owes to one’s self.  If you are asked to love your enemy and return good for evil, it is because, as the Bodhicharyavatara says, “an enemy is one who is capable of helping you to acquire bodhi, if you can only love him.”   One should hate hatred and not the person who hates him.  This does not mean that one should show the left cheek, when smitten on the right, but it means that we must fight evil with good.  Passive non-resistance of evil is no morality at all.  The meekness of the lamb is praiseworthy, but if it could lead only to becoming a prey to the rapacity of the tiger, it is not worth possessing.

... A sound, good, fruitful self-love is the necessary basis for every virtue, and therefore also for a true, sound, good and fruitful love to others.  

P. Lakshmi Narasu – “The Essence of Buddhism”

 

Self-compassion

Of course, the implication of the above formula is that even if nobody else is involved in our actions, the imperative of the Healing Principle means that we should act compassionately towards ourselves.  

 

A loves A when A is necessary for A’s happiness.  

Philip Veasey

 

Researcher Kristen Neff has found that self-compassion tends to make us more resilient, while cultivating self-esteem tends to make us brittle and self-cherishing in an egotistical way.  

Kristen Neff on self-compassion

12 things truly confident people do differently

9 ways mentally strong people put an end to self-pity

21 signs you're mentally stronger than average

 

 

The Koan of the Prize Winning Corn Farmer

 

A story is told of a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year, he entered his corn in the state fair where it won a blue ribbon. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” The reporter asked.

“Why sir?” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

If we are to grow good corn, we must help our neighbors grow good corn. That is the connectedness of life. We often get too engrossed in our own success that we forget those around us and their impact in our progress.

Credit

 

 

Who wins?  Nice guys or jerks?  

The answer is: tough and tender people.  There’s an excellent article in The Atlantic on the subject here:  “Why It Pays to Be a Jerk: New research confirms what they say about nice guys.”  It’s well worth reading, but I’ve summarised the argument with selective quotes:  

 

Givers dominate not only the top of the success ladder but the bottom, too, precisely because they risk exploitation by takers.

The fact is, me-first behavior is highly adaptive in certain professional situations, just like selflessness is in others. The question is, why — and, for those inclined to the instrumental, how can you distinguish between the two?

But the study also points toward a bigger and more general qualification of the advantage to being a jerk: should something go wrong, jerks don’t have a reserve of goodwill to fall back on.

being a jerk will fail most people most of the time.

“I think you can be tough, as long as you’re not toxic,”

He believes that the most effective people are “disagreeable givers”—that is, people willing to use thorny behavior to further the well-being and success of others.

“The hardest thing that I struggle to explain to people is that being a giver is not the same as being nice.”

The distinction that needs to be made is this: Jerks, narcissists, and takers engage in behaviors to satisfy their own ego, not to benefit the group. Disagreeable givers aren’t getting off on being tough; they’re doing it to further a purpose.

 

 

 

Definition of Goodness:

also known as

Perfect Compassion,

a general ethical formula

 

Arguably, the two most fundamental ethical principles of the human race are kindness and fairness.  We “ought” to be kind, we “ought” to be fair.  They are the two ethical principles that support mutual thriving or cooperating: helping in response to need is the basic transaction involved, whose currency is benefit/harm or thriving; and fairness means that all concerned are happy with their rewards for cooperating, which motivates them to cooperate in the future.  

Morality comes into play only when we interact with others – when our actions affect others.  A purely abstract approach, which is to combine the maximising, individual, ethical pressure of the Healing Principle, and the ethic of concern for others, suggests that a general ethical formula should state that each person affected by our actions, including ourselves, is to receive the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them.  

 

The ego

The ego is the part of you that looks after you and enables you to do things to help yourself.  What your ego does for you, it can also do for others.  In that case we can say that your ego has been expanded.  

 

 

 

“Benefit / harm” from the perspective of the ego

 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus – Matthew 22:37–40

 

He is not a believer who eats his fill while his neighbour remains hungry by his side.

The Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon Him

 

... altruism becomes applied egotism.  

P. Lakshmi Narasu – “The Essence of Buddhism”

 

A man is not a great man because he is a warrior and kills other men; but because he hurts not any living being he in truth is called a great man.  

The Dhammapada

 

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolutions.  

Kahlil Gibran

 

Least said, soonest mended.  

Proverb

 

A week later Swagger rang me.  He had bumped into a deflated Tuggy Tug on the street.  He had nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat.  Swagger had only £10 in his pocket but nonetheless he bought a takeaway for them both and took Tuggy Tug back to his flat for the night.  As I put down the phone, I heard Tuggy Tug complaining, ‘I don’t even want this dry chicken, blud.  I can’t eat this dried food,’ and Swagger laughing at him.  ‘Content now?  Is your belly content?’

I thought of the many successful men I knew; men of whom the world approved and rightly rewarded; men who moved people with their oratory; knowledgeable men who could fathom future trends and who set up foundations for the poor; men who would never steal a fridge.  How many, down to their last £10, would have taken in Tuggy Tug – and done it with love?  

Harriet Sergeant “Among the Hoods – my years with a teenage gang”

 

 

Colorado police officer who comforted toddler at scene of fatal car crash sang her a lullaby.

(The Independent)