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I guess it started with my mother… oh, what a beginning of a story, isn’t it? 🙂

Well, it did! She’s the one who always caught me if I was lying. It’s a mother thing, apparently, and it doesn’t seem to have stopped others, but with me, well, I just got it that it’s soooo not worth it so I stopped lying. So far so odd.

Lying is regarded as a sin even when doing so can have good results, because the intent is to deceive. And from St Augustine to current propaganda we have made lists of different ways of lying. We have also made quite a science of how far we can go before what we say is considered a lie. But wait, there’s more 🙂

You see, you don’t just stop lying with impunity, as anyone who has ever watched Liar Liar or heard of True Thomas realizes. Much of what our world prizes (society to begin with!), relies on not telling all the truth all the time to all people in all situations.

Of course, we can only speak as truth what we know or believe, so deception is possible even when the intent is not there. Truly, it does not take many words to speak the truth, it’s just that the path there is full of potholes!

But a person who will not lie must find other ways to live with people. Because when a child says something true but tactless people laugh. An adult doing the same is actively isolated and is sometimes at risk.

First port of call is, of course, silence. Praised as gold to speech’s silver, silence can go a long way towards allowing you not to lie but also to retain some place in your society. But it is ultimately boring and difficult to maintain and it’s not foolproof, either, you can by your silence allow a deception to continue that may have tragic consequences later on.

Avoiding, evading and ommitting the truth all require juggling skills, a terribly good memory (kind of like lying!) and have a middlish efficacy, even when you’re good at them.

Deflecting the conversation can work, especially combined with minimization and omission of truth. That’s the telling some of the truth to some of the people some of the time, while being mind-bendingly cautious of your words, your audience, the possible consequences and a myriad other things.

I did all of the above at one time or another, and only after years of practice. Having been born with no tact at all, but with a human centred belief system and profession, it wasn’t always easy. I feel the best when I can tell the truth and actively try to put myself in situations where I don’t need to use the above mentioned stratagems. As Heinlein would say, between being kind and being truthful, he would choose kindness. I have tried to learn how to tell the truth kindly, that’s as close as I can get.

It seems that getting around lying requires a good workout for your moral compass and judgement, careful selection and occasionally, skills to sneak past your own conscience – never an easy feat!

Exhausting!

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Greed

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For once, this is not from Latin 🙂

But that is not the most interesting thing about this word. This would have to go the the unification by result of two opposites (plus and minus, yin and yang) into a characteristic that ranges from humorous to fatal. I shall attempt to explain.

Stepping into the realm of ethics, most especially applied ethics, you will meet terms like vice, virtue and in religious terms, sin. Greed is one of the sins or vices that has been considered fundamental, major, capital. In other words, really, really bad.

If Aristotelian etichs looks at virtues in the middle and vices (two of them for each virtue!) stemming from taking said virtue to extreme, then greed and miserliness don’t seem to be exact opposites. The opposite of a miser would be a spendthrift, not a greedy person. The opposite of greed would be probably someone who would not reach out for necessities (I understand that eating disorders were at one stage considered a part of a sin).

But when it is considered a sin it also includes miserliness. Which it, in some way, its opposite. Looking at it mathematically, greed is a plus, miserliness is a minus. A greedy person is always seeking addition to his already existent possessions (of anything, really, not just money), while a miser is going to extremes to avoid subtraction of his already existing posessions.

You can also have a person who is both greedy and a miser. The sin of greed unifies them anyway not by intent (which is different), but by result. The result is the unavailability of resources for anyone else. Whether you take them out as miser or grasping more of them as a greedy person, you are not making them available to others who might need them. That lack of generosity, charity and consideration for others is considered a sin, rather than the more neutral wealth.

Religiously speaking, in the end, greed is a sin of the self and, as such, linked with pride. Evolutionary speaking, it is not so clear cut… up to a point. Those who grasped more (food, hunting teritory, females, other resources) had a better chance of survival so at an individual level they would have been stronger and more likely to have strong progeny. But people did not evolve as solitary animals, on the contrary, so at a species level I believe the selfish genes select for co-operation and that leads to sharing of resources. Communities of people around the world, “civilized” or not, have careful, extensive and sometimes enforceable rules around the sharing of resources.

Greed was given as an explanation for people’s disregard for their environment once community took a backstep to industry, once there was a distance between the food you eat and the place where that food originates from, once  individual values were required and the social ones were “nice-to have”, once “team building” had to be taught in workplaces…

And if you read the paragraph above, you also see what can be done about it.

A way back?

Decision

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In the limbo… hang on a minute, I use this phrase without even knowing the roots of it, just the colloquial meaning… quick, Internet to the rescue… goodness, some Catholics really have too much time on their hands, and the Witnesses’ doctrine is quite merciful in a Gordian sort of way…

As I was saying, in the limbo that stretches from intent to action, choices are fighting it off with societal and environmental weapons to become winners. In other words, decisions. Choices are quite general, really, to begin with: to act or not to act. The more they are thought about, weighed and tumbled over in our minds, whittled in both numbers and generality, they start to become potentialities. And then we figure out the ones we can live with, rarely more than three, and we enter the realm of practical ethics. You can argue that intent has its place there too, it’s just that intent is a thought and no more, while decisions are a lot closer to action than most of us care to examine.

In a magical sort of way, decisions can only be defined at the precise moment of action, until then they remain choices. I am sure we can all think of a choice we had every intention of putting into practice that has been changed at the last possible moment, changing therefore the entire world with it. And when you think of it this way, it’s no wonder some are never making any decisions, remaining paralyzed at the choice level or alternating between possible choices until the very future is confused.

A soft spot of mine has always been for the choices that will become decisions. You know what I am talking about, for the theory above has a hole the size of Antarctica in it… or does it?

Let’s say my intent was to go to university – thanks, mum! The choices are many, but the decision has been made way, way before I even started to notice boys. The choices remain what they are, choices, but a streak of “happenings” make sure that most will never see daylight. A vocation. A teacher. A failure. Meant to be?

Between the time the decision was made, until the time the action was taken, five years. A long time in limbo for such an earthly thing as university, don’t you think? A bit far from the “magical” action that’s supposed to define a decision, isn’t it? And yet, who’s to tell that a decision doesn’t act like a rope between the boat of choice and the land of action? I could have changed my mind at any time… couldn’t I? Well, no, vocations don’t change easily, although they do allow several choices within. That teacher removed several of those remaining choices by his actions. And then I failed, so the first choice I had made was no longer available, leaving me with second best by default. Decision.

Resentful, disappointed, defensive, I was all three. My pride… ah, my pride was smarting! And then, discovery. I was meant for the second best. I would not have liked either the first or the third choice. I was now even closer to my vocation than I could ever have hoped. I had five years more to realize this. Decision.

And when I look back, I remember sitting by myself, waiting for the food to arrive and thinking, wishing, yearning for a particular boy…