Doing the Right Thing at Just the Right Time


A popular Burt Bacharach song intones, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love/No, not just for some but for everyone."

Well, what the world also needs now is a more strongly held, more deeply felt sense of ethics and ethical behavior by and for everyone, according to Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D., one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject of ethics.

Weinstein writes and speaks about the subject nationally, notably in a weekend question-and-answer segment on CNN, in which he gives a thumbs up to those people and institutions in the news that took the high road that week – and a big thumbs down to newsmakers who acted unethically.

Notes Weinstein: "The secret to living a rich, satisfying, happy life is to be found in five simple principles, the principles of ethics: Do no harm, make things better, respect others, be fair and be loving.

"We've known about these principles for more than 5,000 years. Every religious tradition in the world teaches them, as do parents in every country. Without them, civilization would be impossible, because there would be nothing but chaos.

"These principles also have a transforming effect on who we are and where we go in life."

'A Downward Spiral'

If these ideas and ideals are so simple, why are they so hard to keep?

"Yes, these principles are simple," says the ethicist, "but deceptively so, because too often we let fear, anger and other negative emotions get us off track.

"This creates a downward spiral, and it's sometimes difficult to get back to where we want to be."

"For example," he continues, "how often do we really keep 'do no harm' in mind during our daily interactions with people? If a clerk at the grocery store is nasty to us, don't we return the nastiness and tell ourselves, 'Serves them right?'

"We may – but if we do, we harm the other person. And, in so doing, we harm our own souls – and this is one of the reasons we shouldn't return nastiness with more of the same," he explains.

While the principles are certainly commonplace, acknowledges Weinstein, it's true also that in their hectic, overcommitted lives, people get caught up in the endless details of just making it through the day, and thus overlook how important these principles are in all they do.

"People are tempted every day to ignore them, and to place value on things that ultimately aren't that important. So taking a few steps back to consider these principles is a helpful thing to do," he says.

Do Jewish people have a special take on ethics?

"Ethics, in general, and social justice, in particular, have always been fundamental components of Jewish life. It would be a grave mistake, however, to claim that Jews have a 'special take' on ethics, or that our ethical framework is richer or better than another faith or culture's," he notes.

"As Jeffrey Moses shows in his book, Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions, all Western and Eastern religious traditions are founded on the same ethical principles," an idea explored in Weinstein's latest work, Life Principles: Feeling Good by Doing Good.

It is true, he says, that there are different formulations of these precepts. "For example, the Jewish version of the golden rule is, 'What is hateful to you, do not do unto others,' while the Christian take is, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' "

He adds, tongue in cheek, "In my hometown of Brooklyn, the saying is, 'Do unto others before they do unto you'."

"In spite of slight variations of style and tone, there is no essential difference between Christian ethics, Jewish ethics, Islamic ethics, Hindu ethics and so on. We are one world, one humanity – and one ethical framework applies to us all." u

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