We live in times of certainty, hence division and conflict. With certainty comes righteousness. The first cousin of righteousness is all too often cruelty. In this post I will address cruelty of two kinds; intentional and ignorant. Intentional cruelty is in some ways the lesser evil. With outright intention, the intentionality forces the cruel person to own the consequences of their actions so we can know and respond to the source of our suffering. Ignorant cruelty is possibly the greater evil. Ignorance is not an intellectual deficit. The false bliss of ignorance is made possible by refusing to witness the consequences of one’ decisions and particularly those that result in suffering. This ignoring or denial of the information flowing in from the real feedback of one’s decisions allows a person to selectively avoid the moral consequences of their work. A religious person might call this the sin of our age.
Last week the story of the 10 year old girl made pregnant though a rape inflicted by a 27 year old man has resulted in a prosecutor examining the possibility of legal action against the health care provider who treated her. This form of legal righteousness serves as an example a virulent form of the cruelty made possible by selective ignorance, certainty, and unmerited righteousness. A wise, compassionate society would have immediately folded this 10 year old into the private arms of care and nurturance to spare her life and reduce the effects of a lifetime injury. We, the public, would have never heard this story beyond whatever justice is handed out to the perpetrator of this rape. Instead society itself is perpetrating laws in the name of caring for life that will make it too hazardous to practice medicine under the Hippocratic Oath in certain states in this country. The cruel consequences of these poorly conceived and written laws are becoming more apparent each day. The writing of bad law is an issue of competence and if the authors of such legislation had a healthy uncertainty matched with humility, they would see and feel the errors of those laws. They would at least try to follow up with corrective measures. But thanks to blind righteousness self correction doesn’t seem to be possible in this age of moral certainty. While the righteous and the certain maintain those postures through the denial of feedback and consequence, infants, children, mothers, healthcare and care givers suffer.
What leadership I have exercised in my career came out of the quality of the questions I asked of the people I hoped to serve and less from any pre-formed knowledge or morality. The experience of ‘not knowing’ always had me entering new projects with ‘butterflies’ in my stomach because in my soul I had to travel on the faith I could find the path for this new project. While I needed to project the confidence of leadership I also had to live with the human uncertainty of outcome. In my experience, certainty, not the lack of belief, is the opposite of faith. Faith does not guarantee the outcomes the human mind manufactures and when people say it does they are selling another product. Faith yields spiritual and material creativity but it certainly is not comfortable. I confess I am a creature of comfort and yet the little good I have done in this life came from giving up comfort to follow the necessities of good.
The Good Decision is a tool composed of the critical questions to be used in big and small decisions. If you are not curious about yourself, your community, your democracy or how you could better serve this tool wouldn’t be of much use to you. I know my tendencies to relax in certain areas into the comfort of certainty, and this tool helps me remain more honest, transparent and faithful to myself. The word ‘good’ only acquires meaning in the context of the anticipated action. The meaning of good is a shape shifter for all of us. We are a culture and nation that seems desperate, not for certain answers, but rather skillful questions that help us mine the truth and real solutions to end the enmity and division.