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David Hegg: Essential values to live an ethical life today

Posted: January 6, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 6, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Someone has said “if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” In the wake of a long list of human-initiated tragedies in the past year, it is time for us all to think about what we believe in and are willing to stand for. That evil exists in this world is a given. The idea that evil can be prevented underlies every code by which societies have attempted to order themselves. We have laws to curb the evil inclinations of the human heart. But even more important than these external restrictions are those internal values that constitute the vital element known as self-control. In short, internal compliance — self-control — is always more effective than external compulsion. But internal compliance means believing in something enough to stand for it even when doing so will mean opposition and even persecution.

One way to determine what we must all believe and stand for is to identify the most dangerous traits, and then hold to the opposite. For example, if deceit is a decaying agent in human relationships then honesty must become a core value. And if pride is an underlying cause of much human wickedness, then humility must also be a core value. Given this way of thinking, over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my list of essential values. That is, things I believe we should all stand for, and consider any deviation to be both dangerous and unacceptable in ourselves and our society.

Honesty: It is axiomatic that where deceit becomes acceptable relationships decay. So much in our lives depends on being able to trust others to do what they say, and say what is true. Honesty also extends to our individual responsibility to obey the rules we have agreed to in our society. For example, when the light turns green and you head through the intersection you are risking your life on the notion that those coming from your right and left are going to be honest and live up to their vow to stop at the red light. In thousands of ways everyday we count on the honesty of our neighbors. If honesty ever becomes relative rather than absolute our society is done.

And yet, we are already seeing the edges of honesty beginning to fray. Lies have become the way of life for too many. Husbands deceive their wives, and wives deceive their husbands. Affairs are grounded in deceit, and our children have watched and learned that the truth can be shaped to promote our sense of well-being. Cheating is at an all-time high in the business world, in the school, and in the home.

Honesty is also decaying in our political world. I can’t remember an election season where the national candidates were — as a group — so duplicitous. It seemed that after every speech and every debate the fact checkers could publish pages and pages of inaccuracies on both sides of the aisle. Obfuscation and outright lies seemed to go unacknowledged, and have become almost an accepted part of our political conversation. Does anyone else see the destination this road leads to?

The place to start, however, is to be honest with ourselves. We need to tell ourselves the truth about ourselves. Are you and I honest? Do we stick to the truth even when it hurts? Do we have a high truth quotient? And are we true to what we believe in? Let’s make it a point to be truthful people, committed to the belief that truth exists and is a foundational necessity for an ethical, satisfying life.

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs every Sunday.

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