September 2, 2018

Why be moral?

The Good Samaritan by David Teniers 

I came across a saying that resonated with me a couple of years ago.

People are not punished for their deeds but by them” – Richard Matheson.

Growing up in Soviet style socialism, a perverted society, I was confronted very early on with a very real moral dilemma. Leading a moral life and not breaking laws would guarantee a life of financial misery.

Fast forward to 1990s in Russia, the ‘Wild West’ times. To ‘ditch’ someone, as in to renege on a business obligation, was a part of everyday language then.

Why be moral if it’s of no benefit?

Of course, there are societies where it’s possible to be moral and prosper. Living an ethical life pays off in the long run. But is financial payoff the only motivation to be loyal, dependable and trustworthy?

Turns out it’s not.

First, what happens around you affects you. I’d rather be in a an economy car driving on a motorway than in a Bentley stuck in mud. People fending for themselves eventually ruin things for themsevles too.

Then, it’s the quote from the beginning of the article – “People are not punished for their deeds but by them”. A thief doesn’t lead a happy and relaxed life, having stolen the fortune and retired to a Caribbean island. That’s the movie stereotype. A real life thief is afraid. Even the seemingly all powerful mafia bosses are forced to hide in underground bunkers.

But today I came across a new thought that inspired this article.

“On a much more immediate level, hurting others always hurts me too. Every violent act in the world begins with a violent desire in somebody’s mind, which disturbs that person’s own peace and happiness before it disturbs the peace and happiness of anyone else. Thus people seldom steal unless they first develop a lot of greed and envy in their minds. People don’t usually murder unless they first generate anger and hatred. Emotions such as greed, envy, anger and hatred are very unpleasant. You cannot experience joy and harmony when you are boiling with anger or envy. Hence long before you murder anyone, your anger has already killed your own peace of mind.”

This is a quote from Yuval Noah Harari’s new book ’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’.

Consider how much more immediate morality is with this thought.

You won’t wait to be punished in the afterlife.

You won’t wait to be punished in this life (the whole ‘Karma’s a bitch’ thing).

You won’t even wait to be punished by your deeds, after you’ve done them.

You start being punished before you commit an immoral act, by having to endure greed, envy, anger and hatred.

Be good to others – because being good to others is good for you.

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