David Brooks on Dan Ariely’s book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, about how most people cheat a little – see earlier post here. Quote:
The key job in the Good Person Construct is to manage your rationalizations and self-deceptions to keep them from getting egregious. Ariely suggests you reset your moral gauge from time to time. Your moral standards will gradually slip as you become more and more comfortable with your own rationalizations. So step back. Break your patterns and begin anew. This is what Yom Kippur and confessionals are for.
Next time you feel tempted by something, recite the Ten Commandments. A small triggering nudge at the moment of temptation, Ariely argues, is more effective than an epic sermon meant to permanently transform your whole soul.
I’d add that you really shouldn’t shoot for goodness, which is so vague and forgiving. You should shoot for rectitude. We’re mostly unqualified to judge our own moral performances, so attach yourself to some exterior or social standards.
Ariely is doing social science experiments and trying to measure behavior. But I thought his book was an outstanding encapsulation of the good-hearted and easygoing moral climate of the age. A final thought occurred to me. As we go about doing our Good Person moral calculations, it might be worth asking: Is this good enough? Is this life of minor transgressions refreshingly realistic, given our natures, or is it settling for mediocrity?
I think most of us live in the realistic, not idealistic (and was likely ever so – Brooks may be looking at the past through rose-coloured glasses a bit).
On most personal ethics question, my test is whether it is consistent with the fundamental values we have tried to pass on to our kids; for professional issues, it is the ‘Globe and Mail test’, whether my actions would pass the test of public opinion. Whether these values are explicitly derived from one’s faith, secular expressions (e.g., Hitchens version of the 10 Commandments), or general family and societal influences, asking oneself the question: Is it right? can prompt the necessary reminder.