We have too many laws and not enough compasses.
I was going to write about Mr. Marsh of Marsh Supermarkets and his curious claim that he was unaware of being under a code of conduct during his employment. I have strong opinions about morality versus law (or code or policy or commandment).
Obeying or not obeying some edict or other has little to do with being moral. Many religions drive me crazy with their specious claims to morality. If you are only doing or not doing something for fear of punishment by the Big G in the sky, the policeman down the street, or your mum and dad, you may be curbing behavior but you are certainly not automatically being moral.
Instead, you are just a dog not pissing on the carpet for fear of the master’s lash.
I thought I would write on this and segue into Boy Scouts territory with a deconstruction of “morally straight” in their oath. I would talk about the shallow absurdity of believing that straight refers to “put your penis there but not there.”
But I think I might write about a dead raccoon instead.
Living in the city, I do not see a decent variety of wildlife. But my husband and I have started feeding the stray cats that come by and that has attracted other creatures, like birds and dogs and squirrels. And, until now, the raccoon.
He loved our house. After eating, he would shimmy up the wooden beams on our porch and hang out on our roof.
Last night I came home from the SGI Buddhist Center. As I parked in the street I saw him about fifteen feet in front of me. Dead.
Ran-over. Killed. Murdered.
He was so beautiful up there on our roof; a beautiful that will be no more.
Today I sent a service request to the Mayor’s Action Center. It’s an efficient site. I just picked the correct options from drop down boxes: dead animal — raccoon — location. There are laws governing such things and I did my part, my civic duty, by reporting it.
But such action on my part wasn’t moral. It was functional, behavioral, and responsible, but not moral. Morality can certainly include those three things, but those things can also be separate.
Instead, morality is the feeling I get when I contribute to the beautiful, whether on the rooftop or elsewhere in the world. It is the pit I feel in my stomach, like it’s been hollowed out, when I see the once beautiful now just so much discarded meat in the road.
Morality requires action, but it also requires a feeling; an emotional pull on the needle of your personal moral compass that keeps you heading in the right direction.
Passing laws or policies has little to do with instilling people with their own moral compasses. But the good news is that compasses come pre-installed. There just aren’t enough compasses being used as we too often settle on the ease — and empty morality — of simply obeying the rules.
It is time for us to move beyond canine obedience into human compassion.