All I have is the power of words.
‘The moral faculty,’ says Professor Shaun Nichols, ‘is part of the mind most likely to be seen as the ultimate explanation for whether a person’s
identity endures or fades away.’ Is this a revision of the old saw, ‘Manners maketh the man‘?
Morality: what we, what I, believe is right or wrong. I am five, I am ten, I am fifteen and all the ages between; my parents’ mantra is, ‘do the right thing.’ What is the ‘right thing’? Right for me? Right for them? Right for someone else?
What do we mean by right? What do we mean by wrong? ‘Semantics,’ my father said. ‘Walk around in another person’s shoes,’ he advised. ‘Think of other’s needs first,’ cautioned my mother in what was my first inkling of irony.
Six months ago, as I grapple once more with depression, I am encouraged to ask ‘What are my needs?’ and put them first.
I think my father might have been heartened by Professor Nichols findings:
People regard morality as central to identity. Why might morality occupy such a place of privilege? One possibility is that our moral selves are central to what it means to be human …
One’s morals are more significant than any other trait? Down what well, then, does meditating on morality lead us? Is morally praiseworthy behaviour dependant on our motives? I think this was where my mother was heading.
“Ethics” leans towards decisions based upon individual character, and the more subjective understanding of right and wrong by individuals – whereas “morals” emphasises the widely-shared communal or societal norms about right and wrong.
Is betrayal immoral, unethical or both? If betrayal is about ethics then one who betrays may well have a confused understanding of the difference between right and wrong. If it is about morals, betrayal negates any contracts negotiated with loved ones, neighbours and colleagues. It derails trust, sabotages intimate relationships, disavows whatever we owe to these people.
All I have is the power of words and this image looping through my head, running, stopping, starting, over and over: a warrior woman, red hair bristling from beneath her helmet. In one muscled arm a sword, on the other a shield. She wears her anger like an annulus, but she circles and winds fruitlessly through my mind. Why does she stop and start? Why doesn’t she act? Maybe wisdom is more fearful than anger?
Wisdom: accrued knowledge, the ability to apply that knowledge, to apply insight gained from experience.
My mother once told me I had the power to wound her with my words. I was fifteen and I thought, but dare not say, ‘I garnered that power from you’.
If I feel betrayed, if I feel a loved one’s actions are morally and ethically questionable I can be, using words my mother loved, vituperative and vindictive. Or I can lean against the wisdom of my father, secure in his understanding of the difference between right and wrong, the nobility of his moral and ethical ruminations learned while watching, in his adolescence, men go stoically, foolishly to war.
What are my needs? To be secure in the knowledge that any contract with loved ones are honoured, that no betrayal, even that of the imagination or the mind, occurs.
I can wait. I can act when wise to do so. And I can call people who betray me to account. My mother passed her sword on to me. My father handed me the shield.
I have the power, and the wisdom, of my words.