When is serving potentially immoral? –Greenleaf

 In his essay, ‘The Ethic of Strength,’ Greenleaf continues with his questions; this morning, Gentle Reader, I will briefly offer us two of what I call his ‘Right Questions.’  

 Do I see evil as an aspect of good? . . .Much as I would choose to embrace the good and work to have it prevail, I would not want to live in a world in which there is no evil. . .Medical researchers now point to the adverse consequences of the promiscuous use of antibiotics. . .People cannot survive in a world in which the destruction of what we currently view as unfriendly is carried on with too much vigor.

Do I accept that there is no virtue that, carried to the extreme, does not become a vice, no sound idea that, overworked, does not become absurd? There may be absolute values in the world, but by the time mortals have filtered them through their biases, distorted them with imperfect reasoning, and warped them through inexact vocabulary, the values are only approximate. . . .A good example of a virtue that, carried too far, becomes a vice is integrity. In most ways, there would be no practical limits on the goodness of integrity. But take the example of the person whose integrity compels him always and in every situation to say exactly and completely what he thinks. This might be an absolute form of integrity. It would also be irresponsible.                   

 If we truly have free will and choice then we must have alternatives. In order for me to choose the ‘good’ there must be an alternative choice available to me – generally, we call this ‘evil.’ Evil cannot exist without good and good cannot exist without evil – it seems to me, anyway.

Another way of framing this idea is to consider that as living paradoxes we are BOTH virtue and vice.  We are capable of the greatest good and we are also capable of the greatest evil.  When we become pride-full and deny our capacity for evil then we put ourselves and others at great risk of harm (history tries to educate us to this idea but over and over our pride gets in the way of our learning).

Not only does our self-righteous pride put us and others in harm’s way, so does our being fear-full (or what is more harmful, we become our fear).  The great wisdom traditions have counseled us for thousands of years, ‘Be Not Afraid!’  But, alas, we humans are slow learners.

Now, Gentle Reader, consider this: Over these many years folks have told me-you-us that a virtue we are to hold is ‘truth-telling.’ This is an important virtue to hold and live into AND yet being ‘totally’ truthful can cause great harm; it can even promote evil. Many folks living in Holland during the German occupation in the 1940s understood quite well that absolute truth-telling would lead to great evil.

Greenleaf asks: ‘When is serving immoral?’ This is a powerful question for those who seek to embrace his concept of ‘servant-first.’ Consider that ‘serving’ might well become immoral when those served become overly (if not solely) dependent upon the one serving.

Regarding an idea/concept that becomes ‘absurd’: In our culture we have, too often, taken the concept of ‘freedom’ and adulterated it into what is often termed ‘license’ (i.e. ‘I can do whatever I want to do!).  We forget or neglect or reject the fact that we are, by our first nature, interdependent social beings.  In our Culture we continue to focus on the ‘rights’ (think: ‘license’) of the person over the rights of the community.  This over-emphasis (if not out-right one-sided view) continues to put all of us in harm’s way.

Gentle Reader: This morning I leave you with two questions to hold: When have you carried a virtue to an extreme? What was the effect upon yourself and upon the other(s) when you did so?

We all must be serving someone or something.  Who or what are you choosing to serve right now? –Maya Angelou

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