From Chapter 28: Acts and Consequences
In the final analysis, morality is about acts and consequences. By consequences, I mean for all the people affected, and also for the person whose actions are in question. If an action has good or benign consequences, then it may be regarded as moral. On the other hand, if an action has bad consequences, then it may be regarded as immoral. Now I know that it is not always possible to anticipate the consequences of our actions. Sometimes we act with good intentions in mind, and it still ends up badly. That’s another instance where morality falls into a grey area, because moral behavior is as much about intent as it is about the act itself. “It’s the thought that counts,” as the saying goes. Once again, absolutes don’t always work well as a moral compass. No matter what guidelines are used, there are always exceptions; seldom are actions morally black or white.
I think that a life of high moral character goes hand in hand with some level of insight. How can we consistently act morally, unless we can foresee the consequences of our actions? Moral behavior involves some sensitivity towards the common good, which also includes oneself as part of the common good. Of course, no one gets it right all of the time. We are bound to miss the mark once in a while. Although rules, codes or creeds are helpful and probably necessary, there is no one size fits all that will address morality. In the absence of a universal moral code, moral behavior is at its best when individuals are able to contemplate the consequences of their actions, and act accordingly. Not because we fear punishment or hope for rewards, but simply because it’s the best way to act for everyone concerned.
From Chapter 18: Seeing the Forest for the Trees
Seeing the forest for the trees is recognizing that our life is a minor contribution to an immensely larger system. We are like individual trees in a large forest. Although the forest needs trees, no one tree is absolutely necessary. The forest does not differentiate or favor one tree from another. The sun shines on all; the clouds rain on all. We are not directors of our lives, and the only real control we have is in our ability to respond to events as they arise. Regrettably we can’t make life into what we want it to be. It is a harsh reality that one unfortunate incident can drastically change our lives, or even end it, no matter what we have going for us. There is no certainty beyond the present moment, and the only thing we can expect from life is the unexpected.
The best we can do is to accept life on its own terms, and try to respond appropriately. We can achieve this by being actively engaged in life’s present realities, and moving in a desirable direction. This should at least allow us to move forward, regardless of the uncertainty that lies ahead. We may or may not get to where we want to go. We use different words to define that place: goals, dreams, success, happiness, peace and fulfillment. However, in time we may realize that these final destinations do not matter absolutely. We may also realize that the fullness of life can only be found in the journey and not in the final destinations.
From Chapter 13: The Tree of Life
In a universe where natural laws apply, it takes billions of years for complex life to evolve. Complex beings like humans cannot appear out of thin air. To put the timescales in perspective, sometimes an analogy can be helpful. By comparing the evolutionary timeline to a twenty-four hour day, from the earth’s formation to today, a clearer picture emerges. The day would begin at 12:01 a.m. with the earth’s formation. Life would then appear at about 3:45 a.m. Most of the day would be spent with primitive life slowly increasing in complexity and diversity. Dinosaurs would only emerge at 10:40 p.m. and become extinct at 11:40 p.m. It is only in the last three seconds before midnight that modern humans would come onto the scene. And as far as one person’s lifetime is concerned, it would only occupy one-thousandth of a second.
Wow! No wonder evolution can be a difficult concept to grasp. When I first heard this analogy it certainly put things in perspective. Life is indeed short, but evolution is long! This does not in any way diminish the human experience, but should make us keenly aware that it’s not all about us. All species have brought their gifts to the table. It was the collective creativity, competition, cooperation, determination and struggle of all life that has provided the opportunity for our life. By the way, those three seconds are also part of the process.
From Chapter 8: Myths and Miracles
There is an underlining mystery in the wonder of life—both in the aspects we don’t yet understand, and even in the aspects we can explain. The natural world has an abundance of sights and sounds that inspire our imagination. There is magnificence and mystery in what nature has accomplished, and in what nature does accomplish on a daily bases. And perhaps most impressive, is that it does so by obeying natural laws.
Whether we experience a radiant sunset, or the beauty of a flower garden in full bloom, one is aware that it’s all natural. However, these experiences can be somewhat mysterious. Nature can be mysterious in a different way than the unknown is mysterious. We live in a time where many natural occurrences can be explained scientifically. In spite of the scientific explanations, the fact that nature works at all, is very impressive in its own right, and still retains an element of wonder and mystery.