Have been talking, thinking, looking at in depth and detail ethical behavior with my friend from Hong Kong, Mary Lee. She found a dictionary definition saying ethics is human duty. Ethics is one of those words that doesn't have a handle. It takes two hands to carry it and if it's hot, you'll need pads. That word duty struck me right away what it is. Ethical (conscious) behavior doesn't seem to come to us genetically. It's learned behavior to help us get along in the herd without a great deal of negative feedback. At the same time, the notion of duty doesn't carry it for me. When a motivation has at it's root self-interest, then is it duty? Duty comes from outside ourselves. Seems to me ethics come from inside ourselves. Yes, we learn them from outside, but we fine tune them within ourselves, or so I'm seeing it now.
I say the motivation for ethical behavior, behavior that is respectful, is driven by self-interest, because ethical behavior keeps our emotional waters calm. No guilt or fears as a result. According to the universal law, you get what you give, when we give respectful behavior, we receive respectful behavior and it keeps the emotional waters mirror smooth so you see the clouds mirrored on the silver water traversed by occasional flying fish. It is self-interest to follow the words of Jesus, love your neighbor as yourself. It makes your life a whole lot more peaceful than perpetual war with that asshole next door who persists in cutting the grass one foot over the property line. Hail far, let him do it. That's a foot of grass I don't have to mow. Thank you, man. Let me put some gas in your mower.
Appears to me that right there is the foundation of ethics, self-interest, wanting the emotional waters peaceful all around me. I live in a world of people, whether in the city or the country. The people around me are more my world than the topography. Ethical behavior creates healthy relationships with the people in one's world, making for oneself a good life. If you prefer the biggest house on the highest hill with a high maintenance wife, and get there walking over people, living in it with a conscience that looks out over the town where you know at least a thousand people out there hate you and for good reason, doesn't strike me as inner peace. What kind of life is that? Then there's the American Dream, living underground a la Ayn Rand, out of sight and out of reach of the people you've jilted. Ethics makes it possible to live among whatever people you're around at the moment. In this way, ethics is even a martial art. The real martial arts master never uses it outside the dojo (the boxing ring). Ethical behavior means the martial artist never has to fight. But sometimes something unpredictable comes along and the martial artist knows how to duck.
In that the martial artist never "uses" his deadly knowledge, it's his ethical behavior that keeps him from needing to use it. Somebody wants to fight, he talks them out of it with good sense, knowing he has the upper hand. Rational talk disarms the aggressor and the problem is over. It is ethics that makes it unnecessary to use his training even to defend himself physically. In this way the martial arts make a good spiritual path. It's about conscious behavior. Another way of saying ethics might be self-awareness. Instead of blindly operating by body chemistry, perhaps ethics amounts to paying attention, giving attention where it's called for. I don't know that I would want to attempt to read a book on ethics unless it might be written by a Lokota medicine man. I don't think it means being the darling of little old ladies to be a man of ethics. Jerry Edwards of Whitehead is a man of ethics who goes about freely in his world with nobody looking at him through rifle sites. Welter Hamm too. Anyone who has ever dealt with either of these men has been dealt with honestly and with respect.
I prefer to think of ethics in everyday life action, talk and thought. Trying to define it so a lawyer couldn't find a loophole through it is beside the point. It's a very practical point of view that informs decision making, helps us to make better decisions for ourselves. When it gets down to the true and false questions, the multiple choice questions, essay questions for tests grading comprehension, that's when it gets complex. Like trying to explain every impulse and action involved in lifting the tip of my forefinger from the j on the keyboard to my nose could take volumes of explanations about unconscious thought to nerves that carry the message, on and on, when it's a very simple gesture. I don't want to detail it to death. I want to find the way of seeing what we call ethics in ways that can answer questions for given surprise situations that may be difficult to distinguish, even to the point of is there really any such a thing as ethics? Well, no, but we've made it so by defining it, so now we have it to deal with.
I feel like my own investigation and what I've come to regarding ethics satisfies my need for a conscious way of dealing with surprise issues. Compassion has to be in there someplace. Though I call it self-serving, which it ultimately is, on the way back to self, it goes out in the world through others and then back. Put out something like a smart remark, it isn't long before a smart remark comes back, either from same person or someone else later. Putting out respectful, honest behavior returns the same. Searching for a way to see ethics as an active part of everyday life, I've come to see ethics as first exhibiting through one's compassion for another. It must be altruistic in nature for it to come back altruistic in nature. When there is compassion, the ethical part is easy. It's when compassion is absent that we need a dictionary of ethics by particular circumstances, when it needs to become a course of study to get a doctorate in and write books about.