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How to Know Right from Wrong…

How to Know Right from Wrong…

The notion of following your own moral compass may seem sadly out of fashion nowadays, though the survival of our democracy, our civilization, utterly depends on citizens anchoring their actions in their deeply held and sorely tested inner convictions about truth, humanity, justice. 

Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?”  Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?”  Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?”  But conscience asks the question, “Is it right?”  And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

An exercise to identify and grow one’s own inner compass below. But first, recent examples that inspire me to make sure I know where my inner moral compass is and that I’m listening to it as I try to be resilient in the face of so much shit hitting the fan in our world right now:

** Police officers in major U.S. cities – Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Denver, New York City – “taking a knee” in support of demonstrators protesting the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by other police officers.

** My co-teacher of mindful self-compassion, Jane Baraz, coordinating 100 volunteers to repair N-95 masks when the elastic had “expired” on otherwise perfectly usable masks; 48,000 masks to first responders and health care workers to date.

** Berkeley Repertory Theater provided the link to HBO’s re-broadcast last week of Anna Deaveare Smith’s Notes from the Field based on 250 interviews documenting the impact of America’s school-to-prison pipeline and the impact on the black community.

** The WinWisconsin campaign is in full swing to “flip” the crucial swing state of Wisconsin in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election

** Cal Performances created a video playlist last week of performances by black musicians who have used the power of art and music around the world for decades to protest injustice and organize for civil rights.

People develop and strengthen their own moral compasses in a variety of ways – from spiritual traditions, from modalities of therapy and personal growth, from customs of cultures – and act from those compasses in an infinite variety of ways.  Use this exercise to identify and strengthen values and virtues in your own moral compass.

This exercise is based on an exercise in Big Organizing Principles from chapter 20 in Bouncing Back “Moving Resilience Beyond the Personal Self”

1. Identify three principles from this list that resonate with you as Big Organizing Principles (BOPs) that you already prioritize in your life.

Accountability Faithfulness Joyfulness Patience
Commitment Focus Knowledge Prudence
Cooperation Forgiveness Love Purposefulness
Courtesy Frugality Loyalty Reliability
Creativity Helpfulness Magnanimity Resourcefulness
Dependability Honesty Mercy Respect
Determination Humility Modesty Reverence
Discipline Idealism Obedience Simplicity
Excellence Industriousness Orderliness Tolerance

The BOP’s of Betty, a single mother of three who came to one of my workshops on resilience and renewal, were patience, faith, and planning. Neil, a retired surgeon, shaped the course of his days through curiosity, gratitude and awe. David, a car mechanic learning computer skills at the local community college, steered his course by hope, steadiness of purpose, and the love of his family.

2. Identify three arenas where you are already able to manifest these BOPs on a regular basis. (Patience helping kids with homework, courtesy with customers, selflessness in volunteering at the homeless shelter once a week.)

3. Identify one more BOP from the list, or a quality from your own list of values, that you would like to cultivate, that would be a stretch for you to cultivate. Set the intention to look for opportunities to manifest this BOP every day for the next month. (Every day for 30 days; not a magic number in neuroscience but it does anchor the practice in a routine, helping the brain learn “little and often”.)

4. Notice how practicing your BOP, and consciously reflecting on the practicing of your BOP, helps anchor this value or virtue more firmly in your sense of self.  Eventually, you can no longer do otherwise.

5. And select the next value or virtue you would like to practice for the next month and install in your moral compass repertoire for the rest of your life.

How we live our days is, of course, how we live our lives. – Annie Dillard