Mark Matousek, best selling author of “When You’re Falling, Dive,” “The Boy He Left Behind,” and “Sex Death Enlightenment,” presents in his latest book; Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good, an inspiring and thought-provoking examination of what makes us good (and evil) and provides insights to the question – How ought we to live? This book suggests that emotions not logic enable morality, and delivers a thoroughly researched and beautifully written analyses on what Matousek terms our five primary moral foundations or moral receptors; innate principles or universal receptors that guide our moral judgments and factor into how we respond/react to events in our lives; both good and evil.
The five principles which divide the book into a literary symphony of five parts are: 1) Harm and Care – we are sensitive to pain (ours and others), we have keen emotions around threats and nurturing, and this factors into our acts of kindness, and our propensity for acts of emotional support and protection. 2) Justice and Fairness – we depend on laws and rights to stop offensive acts, and our belief in reciprocity and just punishment help us live harmoniously as individuals in groups while mitigating our inclination to vigilante behavior. 3) In-Group Loyalty – Our reliance on our group affiliations, patriotism, tribal pride and support of our community is crucial to ethics and shapes our reactions to “others” with not always positive outcomes.
4) Authority and Respect – we are attracted to codes of conduct and leadership figures that maintain our traditions and ways of life; a positive when we have good leadership as these figures can become examples of expected ethical behavior. And 5) Purity and Sacredness – this key moral precept turns us toward the divine and is a doorway to our yearning for goodness/purity and our proclivity for religious fervor. In exploring these principles, the author uses powerful stories, research, intellectual rigor and humor to help us answer many questions including; Which parts of morality are biological, which ethical? When should instinct be trusted and when does it lead us into trouble? and the key question: How Ought I to Live? I enjoyed reading this book and was impressed by the insights and stories which helped elucidate and explore the notion of good and evil… More below. Have a restful Memorial Day!
“There is a power at the center of our being, at the heart of all things living. But only in man does it assume a spiritual character. And only through spirit does life continue by decision.” Terrence Des Pres
Each of the five moral principles, forms a heading, followed by a subset of supporting chapters in the book, and the topics are examined closely with supporting research, questions and fascinating real life stories that clarify the points the author makes about how and what influences our moral decision-making and ethics. For instance, he shares a powerful and poignant story of how the widows of two South African men who were murdered by Eugene de Kock met with him, at his request, in jail. He was remorseful and crying, asking for their forgiveness, and in that moment, one woman reached out and touched his hand (the trigger hand), and experienced a flash of sacredness; a recognition that as she put it, “I learned that good and evil exits in all our lives and that evil, like good, is always a possibility. And that is what frightened me.”
The book offers lots of food for thought and aha moments to keep us interested and engaged in reading it. The author is careful in establishing the impact of these principles in the lives of ordinary, everyday people without presuming it is everyone’s experience. As he points out early in Ethical Wisdom,
“By keeping my nose out of religion, academia and politics, my hope has been to create a secular, dogma free, prejudice free, politically incorrect overview of what we know about our innate ethical sense, with as little cultural quibbling as possible.”
He has accomplished that in the book and more. In addition to his writing, Mark is a master teacher, mentor, and an all around remarkable guy. This book gets an A and is recommended reading. Plus, you won’t want to miss the brilliant – Tests, Games, & Challenges – he adds at the end. They are worth exploring and are quite enlightening for each of us. Come back and I will add links to a few (Updated). Try these Tests and surprise yourself … or not: How honest are you? How logical are you? How egoistic/altruistic are you? and Where do you locate your center of power? (click cancel when the name/dialog box appears)
What are your thoughts? How do you decide when/how to act in situations? What ethical wisdom has shaped your thinking? your beliefs? How do you view the notion of man being inherently good and equally evil? Do share! Thank you.
Positive Motivation Tip: Our propensity for good and evil is ever present. We can choose the path of goodness or not; but we owe it to ourselves to consider our ethical stance on issues.
- Mark Matousek: How the Gift of Gab Saved the Human Race (huffingtonpost.com)
- Good & Evil (almostclever.wordpress.com)
- Are We Born to Be Wise? (psychologytoday.com)