In Which My Mother Helps Me Consider What’s Important

By what guidelines do you think we are judging good and bad, right and wrong, at this moment in Western society? I found I was asking the question in the wake of Andrea Leadsom’s comments about motherhood, and the furore over Black Lives Matter in America. And I am wondering whether the answer lies in the odd pickle we seem to be getting ourselves into over the difference between morality and ethics. Let me explain, and to do so, I’m going to talk about my mother.

My mother was born into an age of morality. Back in the 40s, behaviour was judged by an absolute system of black and white rules. There were no excuses, no mitigating circumstances, and very little in the way of compassion. Couples could not live together without getting married, babies could only be born into marriages, homosexuality was a sin, foreigners were not to be trusted, you kept your house tidy and turned up to church on a Sunday, and respectability was all. Of course what went on in private was entirely unregulated. What mattered was to show yourself to be on the right side of the rules in the public space.

Now, my mother was a war baby. My grandmother never told her who her father was, and my mother had to grow up with the stigma this conferred. My mother, who has a mind like a steel trap, let me assure you, grew up with far less education than she should have had because school was an uncomfortable place for her, and she was wounded in her self-esteem. She has never had the confidence to which her looks, abilities and character should entitle her. And yet could anyone be more innocent in the situation in which she found herself? Nothing my mother did warranted the stigma that attached to her in her early years. I can only hope her life spent as the essential heart of a close-knit, loving family has managed to make up in some way for this rank injustice.

Over the 60s and 70s people began to wake up to the unnecessarily stringent harshness of their morality. They began to understand that people should not be condemned for the rest of their lives because they made a mistake, or because they were different to the rigid standard of ‘normal’. And this was because morality was gradually giving way to ethics. Morals are the rules imposed on a group, whereas ethics are the guiding principles we choose for ourselves. Morals are specific to historical time and place, whereas ethics are eternal, and transcend the society we live in. The way I understand this is that ethics are often primarily concerned with how we treat the other person, based on the understanding that what unites us is much more profound than what separates us; we must all suffer the difficulties of the human condition.

Two of the great forces in this shift into ethics were feminism and civil rights. In both cases the premise of the argument is that men and women and people of all skin colours are fundamentally the same. But society has made some of those groups second-class citizens in the eyes of others, thanks to longterm, systematic discrimination. Much as those people who had been discriminated against were angry, and with every right to be so, their intention – explicit in feminist circles – was to ‘raise consciousness’. In other words, to remind others of basic human similarity, to help others understand what it was like to walk in their shoes, and to promote the ethical necessity to ensure fairness, justice and equality for all.

The psychologist Alfred Adler argued that one of the great motivating forces in each individual is to make up for the painful feelings of inferiority we harbour by finding ways to feel superior. He felt that childhood would pretty much wound everyone, one way or another. We’d all emerge from it feeling awkwardly, shamefully inferior in some respect or other, and the counterpart of that unpleasant condition would be to search ruthlessly for reassurances of our superiority. Now, morality is a fabulous way to do this, because it has simple rules and no excuses. If we catch someone trangressing a moral boundary we have every right to look down on them. They have done wrong. They are inexcusable and must be punished.

But ethics has a very different perspective. The ethical position suggests we consider how we ALL struggle with these feelings of inferiority, and that the way to move forward isn’t to seek this fallacious sense of being superior to others, but to have compassion for ALL our wounds and weaknesses, in our broader collective.

If women and ethnic minorities hadn’t believed that the people around them could be enlightened and changed, there wouldn’t have been much point in them fighting for the right to equality. The ethical position acknowledges that the world is often a badly misguided place, full of damaging and dangerous misunderstandings, but it is fundamentally optimistic. From that shared place of humanity, we might all choose to deal with our fears and our insecurities in better ways, in the fullness of justice and compassion. And it is a choice. Morals are imposed, but ethics are the principles we choose for ourselves, and so the path towards them is always an education.

We are supposed to live now in an age of ethics, where we understand that each individual is the same but different, and that’s okay. But of course it isn’t okay, because there’s a tendency for people to want to turn ethics into a morality, to have absolute rules that brook no excuses. So if someone makes a sexist comment, we want to invoke a moral rule. There’s a tendency to want vengeance, to shout that this is wholly unacceptable, the person has fallen on the wrong side of the law and must be punished; they must be humiliated and ashamed. I can understand a warrior stance against backsliding, but I wonder if some people believe that only anger, shame and humiliation will educate (though schools gave up with that approach a while back, because it causes as many problems as it solves). In any case, all this is a moral perspective on the problem, a case of people being wrong or right, good or bad, without nuance.

An ethical perspective would be to educate or enlighten the person who made the sexist comment; to challenge them for sure, but not to aggress them. In ethics, the question is fundamentally how you treat the other person. Sure, it’s wrong to insult someone in a sexist way. But to scream for the blood of that person on social media, to humiliate them in public, to ensure that they lose their livelihood for their mistake, well, that’s every bit as unethical as the insult was in the first place.

And why should we not turn our ethics into a morality? Well, because of people like my mother, that’s why. Because morality can be so harsh and unbending, so restricted in its ruling, and yet so specific to its time that innocent people do get caught in the crossfire of something that’s ridiculous 50 years later. That’s why we let the law deal with the timeless rules of morality, with the extreme cases of murder, grievous harm, theft, slander, and so on. Because morality can ruin people’s lives if they end up on the wrong side of it. And, with rare exceptions, that’s too harsh for the everyday problems of getting along together in a mixed society.

So we’ve had a couple of big ethical issues happen in the Western world lately. Andrea Leadsom’s foolish remarks about motherhood, and the Black People Matter argument over in the States. In both of these cases the debate has moved almost instantaneously into a punitive, vengeful, moral realm. I place the blame on the media, which is the punitive, vengeful, moral realm par excellence. The media are totally unethical – they will ruin anyone’s lives without a second thought if they can make moral mileage out of it.

I seriously think that we should not let the media have our conversations for us. Ethics rise naturally to the surface when we become real to one another. When we speak openly, not defensively, from our vulnerabilities. When we actually listen because we want to understand the problem. Forget the media – sisters, let’s talk about how irrelevant it is to our friendships whether we have kids or not. Black, white, East, West, we all need to keep talking to people who are different to us, to be reminded time and again how much we share. Then these screaming headlines in the papers – Having Children Makes You A Better Person! – Black Lives Matter Is A Racist Comment! – can be met with the words ‘don’t be so ridiculous’, and a turning towards positive things. What unites us is far more powerful than what separates us.

I think we have to keep asking ourselves: what is truly important in a life of limited time and energy? Is it more important to express anger and hatred, or love and kindness? Is it more important to catch people out, or to explain to them why they made a mistake? Is it more important to reassure ourselves we’re right, or to recognise the insecurities that make us all crazy sometimes?

Here’s what I think is important: try to understand the other person, and be kind. Understanding and compassion neutralise far more powerfully than any violence can.


p.s. In case you were wondering, I told my mother what I was writing and gained her permission to tell some of her story. Thank you, Mum!


53 thoughts on “In Which My Mother Helps Me Consider What’s Important

  1. Really powerful and well-written post and I so agree with you about the accountability of the media – they provide fuel for the hatred and divisions in society and are basically so irresponsible. Your comment that “there’s a tendency for people to want to turn ethics into a morality” is spot on – we need to educate people more.

    • Thank you, Karen! The media are driving me nuts at the moment. I had this (vain) hope that after Brexit they might have learned a few lessons, but no. The tabloids are unspeakable and the worst offenders, but even the broadsheets are biased, unhelpful and often vitriolic. I completely agree with you – so irresponsible! If the media refuses to be educated about its ethics, then we have to hope that schools can manage to educate its readers….

  2. This is one of the most insightful series of observations I’ve ever read about the ways in which ethics are warped into morality. Thank you. I have shared this with several of my friends this morning…those of us who ponder why the just cause so often becomes, itself, an oppressor.

    • Oh thank you! That is just a lovely compliment. I have always cared a great deal about ethics, and I realised writing this that it was probably my mother’s story that had awakened my interest in the topic. Injustice is a powerful motivator.

  3. Yes, sadly scandal and controversy sells – which is why Katie Hopkins still gets air-time, when everyone would be much better off ignoring her. She reminds me of the pupil who would muck about during class to draw attention to herself, think she was terribly funny, but actually ended up annoying the rest who just wanted to get on with it. But the media is all about air-time and selling, right?
    Thank you for sharing your mother’s story. We certainly don’t want to go back to those times of narrow definitions of right and wrong, and the ‘correct’ way.
    And kindness, I’ve decided, is the most important (yet underrated) virtue of all. I’ve been telling my children to always look for kindness in others (and in themselves, of course) rather than for other more dazzling qualities.

    • Oh that ghastly Katie Hopkins. If only we could have a news blackout on her! Your comments about her are spot on. We all need so badly to be on the receiving end of kindness that it amazes me we don’t press for it more. Good for you for encouraging your children to prefer it over flashier attributes. Nothing is more important than a good heart.

  4. I have an issue with the suggestion that to publicly humiliate someone who has done something oppressive or cruel is as unethical as what they did in the first place, and I think it’s tied up with the suggestion that ethics is eternal and transcendent. It doesn’t allow for the skewing effect of power – to publicly humiliate George Osborne for his budget cuts does not affect him in the way that his budget cuts have affected the disabled who now can’t afford carers – and it doesn’t allow for the unfairness of asking people constantly disregarded and treated with violence to be calm, respectful educators of those who hate and fear them. I think you and I are of the same opinion on civil rights, of course, but I do believe that there is a place for that kind of public rage and brokenness. There has to be, because so often the people who need calling out are the wealthy and the powerful, and if they are not interested in listening to the calm and quiet voices, they can sometimes be shocked into awareness by the raised ones. (Though, of course, you’re more likely to win the “respect” of a bigot by being “rational” in your discourse, but then that’s not necessarily the kind of respect that the oppressed want to pander to any longer.)

    • I completely agree that there needs to be a place for outrage and protest. Absolutely. And there is much that needs protesting. But the collective force of a non-violent protest march, the collected writings of people who have found convincing arguments against injustices, groups who lobby hard with justice on their side are, to my mind, far more powerful than a lone voice that seeks to humiliate someone like George Osbourne, for instance. And I wish I could say that the rage I see around me was always directed against targets who are powerful. People learn to take things out on each other, and the whole process persists.

      The idea that you take to other side what has been done to you seems a bit close to the idea that protests cannot be non-violent because otherwise no one will listen or take them seriously. There are great exemplars like Ghandi and Martin Luther King who proved this unnecessary, when representing the powerless. There’s a very moving and fascinating book called Non-Violence; The History of A Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky that might interest you. In it he shows how many of the great political battles for change were won by non-violence, but that was never FELT to be enough, and violence was then used to consolidate the power of the winning side.

      I think the problem may be that we cannot imagine power without force – which is why states believe they are impotent without a military. But that just propagates forceful power. I am all for the expression of rage and horror at injustice. But I would much rather see those who feel that way talking to each other and finding an organised way to protest rather than just shouting abuse at people who are probably not even listening. I admire and value the passion you would bring to these problems, Eleanor. Yours is just the kind of voice I feel we need to capture and hear, and that you have many forceful and convincing ways of expressing yourself about the issues of the day.

      • I do like Mark Kurlansky’s work (my mother teaches Western Civ at a college in Virginia and uses his book Salt in her introductory classes!), so reading Non-Violence is a great idea. Also, am very convinced by the idea that we find it hard to conceive of power without force. I struggle with this myself – how can something (a person, an institution) wield power without the ability to enforce, built on a foundation of fear? (I’ve also been watching a lot of Orange Is the New Black recently, which is one of the best artistic explorations of power and its abuses that I’ve ever come across.)

        Perhaps, too, I’m affected by my own feelings of impotence and cowardice. Everything feels so awful, and fixing it seems so hard, and no one seems to want to try, and I was too timid to even tell two groups of people shouting at each other on the Tube yesterday to please stop.

      • That is so cool about your mother! I hope you like the book and would love to know how you get on with it. I must also watch Orange is the New Black as it seems to be a bit of a phenomenon! Anger is such a difficult emotion – it’s essential in that it tells us things are wrong and something needs to be done about them. But then acting in or out of anger is rarely helpful. Finding ways to simmer down is such an important thing, but no one teaches it to humans after the age of about 4! I know exactly what you mean about the awful pall of emotions in the country at the moment, and it does look like people are just intent on making things worse. But, I get increasingly suspicious of the media telling us how dreadful everything is all the time, and I do have faith in humanity. We’ve lasted a long time, despite everything, and the urge to live sensibly and well is high on most people’s agenda. When you get down to the individual.

        I would have been far too timid, as well, to tell shouty people to stop shouting. I would definitely have left them to it. I’m sure there’s a maxim I can’t exactly recall about walking away being sometimes the better part of valour! I think you did the right thing.

  5. Very interesting and thoughtful and I completely agree with you! I suspect this may be useful to keep in my mind at the next Ethics Committee meeting that I will be chairing in about a week or so. x

  6. Another eloquent well argued post, Victoria. I agree with you absolutely about the pernicious effects of the media which sees everything in black and white rather than the infinite shades of grey which make up society. Add social media to this and you have a toxic mix. Even the most articulate among us find it hard to express a nuanced view in 140 characters which further ratchets up judgemental responses to situations requiring a thoughtful, empathetic response.

    • That’s a very good point, Susan. 140 characters do not allow for anything complex to be said! Headlines are the worst of the media, and somehow headlines have become a way of talking to each other. Funnily enough, though, I have appreciated all the Brexit jokes on social media. There, people have been incredibly inventive. I’m not sure what it says about me that I think a joke is more powerful than an insult!

  7. Bravo Victoria! And thank you to your mum. Leadsom was naive and the media just leapt on it. It is getting increasingly difficult to have rational discussion about all of these issues as opinion is so polarised, few will listen and/or compromise. I am just hoping that May, BoJo and co understand the difference between ethics and morals, work as a team and negotiate Brexit with compassion and optimism.

    • Thank you, Annabel, so much. That’s exactly what annoys me – the things we really need a rational discussion about are precisely the things that get whipped up into a shouting match. And don’t we need common sense, good will, careful consideration right now? If not now, then when?

  8. I was listening to a podcast this afternoon, and one of the journalists was talking about how tired he gets of people going right to their respective corners and yelling at each other whenever something tragic happens. (This was in reference specifically to the shootings by police and shootings of police.) He talked about how the Twitter conversation in particular made him feel angry and upset in a way that wasn’t helpful. Yet when he went to Dallas to cover what was happening where the police officers were shot, he was able to find people who were being thoughtful and contemplative about it and able to understand multiple points of view. I found that hopeful, but I wish it were easier to make those conversations more visible. The polarizing ones get so much more traction, unfortunately.

    • What a great comment, Teresa. That is exactly the sort of thing I mean – where people among themselves can make peace and sense out of things that certain elements of the media will wring the sensation and hysteria out of. I think it’s all about what we pay attention to. I wonder if it will ever be possible to choose not to listen to the polarization, the shouting, and choose the quiet, sensible, considered viewpoint? To my mind the latter is important and the former is a gut reaction that’s real and true but not something to build a future or a solution upon.

  9. >>An ethical perspective would be to educate or enlighten the person who made the sexist comment; to challenge them for sure, but not to aggress them.

    Oh gosh, I have such complex feelings about this. This perspective/advice absolutely depends on the good faith of all parties — i.e., that a person who makes a sexist/racist comment doesn’t have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. And so often this simply isn’t true, so what ends up happening is that a woman who responds to the sexist comment in good faith by challenging it and attempting to educate the sexist-comment-maker ends up mired in an impossible, hostile discussion with someone who has no interest in learning better. So when we suggest that it’s the responsibility of the group harmed by an axis of oppression to educate the people who benefit by it, I think what we tend to be asking, actually, is for them to let themselves in for an eternity of these pointless damn conversations with people who have no interest in their point of view. That’s — a lot to ask, I think. Unfair to ask people to do it over and over again while their interlocutors feel no such ethical compulsion towards reason and open-mindedness.

    • I agree with you that the group in the firing line may well need to be kept away from the fire. I should have said more about the way that it may take some thought to choose the right educational strategy. All prejudice is based in fear, so we have to think our way around that. Supposing there are sexist comments in the workplace, the best approach may be to find another man who is a peer to the sexist idiot and who can take him aside. Or maybe it’s the boss but pulling rank can be problematic, as the sexist idiot feels fear much more than he feels education happening. Which can reinforce the prejudice. In any case, we do have to think how we get the message across – I just feel strongly that we have to keep trying to get that message across in an educational way.

  10. What a great post, and one that I’ll be rereading. The trouble is that black-and-white thinking is so easy, and it’s so comfortably reinforcing to be able to shout, ‘You’re wrong and that’s bad’ without having to consider context or nuance. Much of media does often play to that, but not I think all. And how we the electorate love it! Better public services AND lower taxes AND reducing the deficit – yes please!

    Did you see a really great cartoon that came out during Brexit but appropriate to pretty much everything? Two booths, one with a banner above it on which is written ‘Comforting lies’ and one with a banner above it, ‘Hard truths’. There’s a huge queue of people clamouring excitedly round the first booth, and no customers at all at the second…

    Interestingly enough I think that Andrea Leadsom herself fed the polarised debate around her silly remarks. Rather than simply apologising and/or maybe saying they were taken out of context, she immediately started throwing around accusations of gutter journalism and hateful reporting which just ratcheted it all up and turned it into an argument about accuracy – not, it would seem, her strongest suite. I must say, I giggled a bit when she wrote that it was the worst journalism she’d ever seen – I don’t think she must look at the tabloids very frequently.

    • Oh, I know exactly what you mean, Helen. Have you read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow? I must read it (though Mr Litlove has enthused about it so much I do feel I have the gist…) But that seems to be about the comfort of reaching instant conclusions and saying yes, please, to things that on closer inspection are quite impossible. The cartoon does sum it up perfectly! As for Andrea Leadsom, she is clearly going to be one of those public figures who cannot help but say utterly stupid things. Myself, I would vote for just not paying attention to any of it (and the ridicule doesn’t seem to have made her stop, so far), but I suppose she is too much of a gift to journalists for that. You would think that Media Training 101 for politicians would include the art of apology, but it must be like the Dark Arts at Hogwarts and hard to get instructors for that part of the course. 🙂

  11. Also – and this was actually what I meant to write first – I’m sorry that your mother had such a rough time and was so marked by it, how could she not be, but how sad that she experienced it at all.

  12. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it occurs to me that the movie Dirty Dancing captures the split you’re talking about here. It was set in the early 1960s, when the line between morals and ethics started to blur. It’s one of my favorite movies, and now I can start to understand why. Than you for a very insightful blog post!

  13. I couldn’t really understand at the time why the media were making a big thing of the ‘motherhood’ statement. It seemed a reasonable thing for an ordinary person to make, a silly one for a politician to make and if people disagreed, as I did, then we could say so, but it wasn’t a reprehensible thing to say. It all seems to have been so convenient; Leadsom drops out of the leadership race after a ‘controversy’, that isn’t really a controversy, leaving the way clear for May—and Leadsom gets a cabinet position as compensation. Well, it saved time I suppose.

    • I did feel the same. It seemed to me a ridiculous thing to say, silly, and so it didn’t require any further thought or consideration! I thought she’d been backed into saying it, and really ought to have refused the question on the grounds it had nothing to do with political policy. But everything has to be a controversy these days, outrage seems to be a state of mind – I don’t have the energy to get riled up about every daft thing anyone says. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist myself as i never believe people are organised enough. But I do think some are very good opportunists.

  14. [J] not sure I agree on distinction between morals and ethics. I would say morals are arbitrary and imposed regardless of their utility, whereas ethics are intended to be based in and serve needs of humanity. Morals are subject to the whims of the age and culture that precedes ours. Ethics are intended to serve our own generation and those that follow us.

    • When I was looking around the internet to check my memory of my own understanding of the difference between ethics and morals, I was surprised by how many takes there were on the question. I can’t say that I’ve come across yours before but then this is a HUGE field which I have vastly simplified. My understanding comes from mostly French philosophers like Emmanuel Levinas, Althusser to some extent, the other postmodernists. I have read Kant, but long, long ago and he can seem a bit dated now. But I’ve never read the utilitarians like Hume and Bentham and John Stuart Mills – maybe that’s where your own understanding comes from?

      • I’ve always thought “ethics” and “morality” to be pretty much synonymous, and I admit it wouldn’t have occurred to me to make a distinction between “morality” associated with social pressures, and “ethics” associated with matters of personal conscience.
        My Collins English Dictionary (from 1994!) has the following definition of “ethics”:
        “the philosophical study of the moral value of human conduct and of the rules and principles that ought to govern it; moral philosophy”
        There are several definitions of “moral”, one of which matches your interpretation:
        “adhering to conventionally accepted standards of conduct”
        But there is also:
        “based on a sense of right and wrong according to conscience” (example given: “moral courage”)
        So it’s all up for grabs 🙂
        However, when I think of the term “moral courage” cited above, it suggests to me personal integrity, and the opposite of blind adherence to social mores.
        I suppose if “ethics” is a philosophical concept and “morality” a more general one, it makes sense that women who became pregnant outside wedlock in times gone by were labelled by self-righteous people as “immoral” rather than “unethical” (actually, can a person be unethical? I’m entering a semantic labyrinth).
        Anyway it doesn’t really matter – I agree completely with your argument, and am as saddened by you are at the pressure always to yell at those we don’t agree with.
        (The other day I read something on the web written by somebody who’d seen a dog in a car outside a supermarket in warm weather. She went into the supermarket and asked for an announcement to made, asking for the owner to attend to the dog. Admirable enough behaviour. However, not satisfied with having done the right thing and resolved the situation, this person then harrangued the owner of the car/dog when he came out, and said he was lucky she didn’t smash his car window. To which he replied he wanted to smash her face. All very edifying. Even compassion, for some people, isn’t enough in itself, but has to be the springboard for a fight.)
        Sorry for the long brain dump, one thought led to another :\

      • It is a remarkably untidy field, isn’t it? Well, I say that as someone with a dabbler’s interest in it, when I’m sure it’s crystal clear to a specialist. I do think it clarifies things to use the different words in context – as you so rightly point out, having a baby outside wedlock is not unethical. Abandoning a pregnant woman because you already have a wife is unethical behaviour, though. Which is why I tend to think ethics seems more bound up in practice with how we behave towards others.

        The story of the dog in the car is exactly the kind of thing I mean. I’m not sure whether the world is just getting angrier at the moment (is that correlated to climate change and generally hotter temperatures? Or the way that being self-righteous has become conjoined with rage?), or whether we get less and less tolerant of and compassionate towards, the mistakes of others. It does seem to me worth thinking about, however.

  15. I’ve been a long-, long-time reader and admirer of your blog, and I’ve commented many times in the past.
    I live in northern New York State. I must admit I’m very confused by what you describe as “the furor over Black Lives Matter.” Naturally, I don’t watch British media, so I’m ignorant of what has been said in the UK about those three words.

    I’d like to say, very respectfully, that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is a cornerstone of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In fact, Secretary Clinton coined the phrase. She is the candidate I wholeheartedly support. Although racial issues are always at the forefront of U.S. society, there has been no organized calumny directed at Secretary Clinton for her speeches on the topic “Black Lives Matter.” Not even Donald Trump has attacked her on this platform. Clinton has engendered a great deal of African-American support and white liberal support for this platform.

    Our nation is facing an enormous divide on the issue of guns, and on the divide between African-Americans and white police officers in many, but not all communities. There is no question that this serious issue must be resolved, as well as many other imbalances between African-Americans and white Americans in every other sector of U.S. society. This has been a relentless, continuous, constant aspect of our daily lives.

    But a furor over “Black Lives Matter?” I’m very, very confused by that description.


    • Oh dear, I’m sorry if I’ve misread the situation from over here in the UK. I thought there had been some heated debate that had created an alternative slogan ‘All Lives Matter’ and that both slogans had been deemed racist. Also that there had been some rioting that had upset people, and I did think that Donald Trump had got involved in the discussion. I’ll link to some of the things I’ve read:

      Again from here in the UK, my stance is that Black Lives Matter is of course not a racist statement, just a plea for equality and I was surprised (and then, I suppose not, given the way things are) that it could be questioned in this way. But maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick?

      • You definitely have the right end of the stick, to my mind! During an election year, we have these ridiculous “daily news cycles,” and this was one of them. Whatever comes out of Secretary Clinton’s mouth, the opposite will come out of Donald’s mouth within 24 hours. And then it’s over.
        It’s just that this newsbite didn’t gather much mileage.
        I will say that the policy of affirmative action in education, in the workplace, and in the courts has been a genuine,volatile, and divisive issue for two decades. This is still a HUGE issue, which directly relates to the concept of Black Lives Matter, although, interestingly enough, affirmative action has not been a debating point in this campaign as of yet.

  16. An extremely thoughtful and well written piece which I intend to pass on to others.
    So sorry that your mother went through such a bad time and thanks to her for letting you use her story. I was born in the thirties so i know just what the morals of that period were like.

  17. When a slogan is a plea, then ethics matter. When it’s used to bludgeon others into being quiet, it’s being used as morality. I’ve seen “black lives matter” used both ways. The latest example–the therapist who was shot while lying down with his hands up–is one of the most egregious.
    Sigh. You do a nice job of teasing out some of the strands that get tangled up in my mind.
    I should have read this while still mulling over my post for today, but read it afterwards.

    • What you say about the use of the slogan is very intriguing and perceptive. I hadn’t heard about the therapist so I’m going to go and look that up. How depressing.

  18. Pingback: Literary linking – a special edition | Literasaurus

  19. Such a well written piece – I’ve been spreading it around all over the place, I hope you don’t mind! It’s so nice to get some balance in all the current ‘crazy’. It gives me hope that things aren’t quite as bleak as they look some days…

  20. Very late to the table but I just wanted to say, dear Litlove, that your thoughtful illuminations of the differences between morality and ethics make for thought-provoking and heart-searching reading. Thank you.

  21. Looks like I’m the same generation as your mother! I was brought up with strong values of morality, a bit too repressed, but perhaps that is better than no morality? Now, I embrace Zen Buddhism which contrary to some populist thought has a strong ethical base. If someone tells you Zen is amoral or that you can do as you please, it isnt true Zen!

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