One of the ideas that I have been toying with in relation to ethics is the idea that we are far too preoccupied with the ethics of others. This is a tricky concept to articulate because it would be very easy in my examination to commit the very crime that I disavow. The temptation is to offer the idea as a prescription – this is how people should act. To proscribe however is to weasel out of the essence of what I actually want to say.
The idea that I want to examine is very simple – I think that we spend too much time being preocupied with whether others are being ethical, and we shirk on introspection. As I’ve discussed before, we take our negative behaviors to be products of circumstance, while we take the negative behaviors of others to be products of personality. By the same token, we give ourselves lots of credit for positive behavior, while we are disinclined to extend the same credit to others. I think that this causes a considerable amount of conflict because it means that people who are angry with each other instinctively place responsibility on the other party.
Conceptually I think that the idea that people don’t hold themselves to the same ethical standards is fairly easy to grasp. The challenge with the concept of self-focused ethics, in my experience, is actually thinking the idea about ourselves. If we apply it to others, we haven’t actually grasped the idea. Though we can apply it to others, it can only be understood when applied to ourselves. Each of us as an I must be able to say “I take responsibility for my actions.”
The reason that I think this concept is so important is because the only actions that we have control over are our own. Everyone else might as well be forces of nature for all that we can call upon them to behave differently. In a sense, I think we should treat others as such – leaves blown in the wind. Our inclination is to see ourselves as jostled by the forces of the world, while taking others to be autonomously responsible for their actions.
I think we should reverse our priorities. we (and by we I mean I) should make every effort to forgive the actions of other as products of circumstance. Judging ourselves is a little more complicated. I do not think we should be too harsh on ourselves, that is just a recipe for ill-health and self-loathing. However, I do think we should try to be consciously considering how we want to act vs. how we are acting, and always be resisting the negative influence of our environment on our behavior. To give a practical example, imagine that you’re in a fight. Our natural inclination (or at least, my natural inclination) is to put responsibility on the other person, while absolving ourselves (myself) of responsibility based on circumstance. What I’m arguing is that we really shouldn’t dwell on the responsibility of the other person, but instead should try to focus our efforts on our own behavior.
Let me know what you think, thank you for reading,