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A Case for Ethics

Once there was a woman who owned 100 acres. She tended it well, cultivated it, and over time the land produced a good harvest. She lived next door to a man who liked to cut corners. He abused his staff, refused to give them what they had earned. He was greedy and manipulative, cruel and self-involved. His fields did not give him the harvest it could. The soil was depleted of its nutrients. The crops were often weak and fetched a far lower price at the market. The man would often stare at his neighbor’s land and be filled with envy.

Over time, the man decided his neighbor’s land was better than his. There must be something in the soil, he determined, that allowed her crops to grow while his barely came above ground. He tried to buy the land. The woman refused. 

So, he started to plant his crops on her land. He slowly began to move the boundary between them more and more onto her side. He started to lie about her in town, saying she used additives to her soil to force her crops to grow. He claimed she bought crops from someone further away and was deceiving those in town. Even though the woman had always been well-liked, with integrity that went without question, her neighbors began to turn away from her. They bought from the man, even though his crops were not as good. 

When the woman realized the man was stealing her land, she went to the sheriff. He shrugged her off because he could not see the man doing that. She went to the courts but the man had forged documents and told the judge she agreed to give him her land. Even though the woman kept proclaiming the truth, she lost. 

The man kept advancing on her land. Even though the courts told him to stop, he kept going. The sheriff and others did nothing to stop him. The woman watched her fields die under the abusive habits of the man. She watched as everything she cultivated slowly turned to dust.

The woman began to speak with others in town, those who also had issues with the man. She managed to get a judge from the state to come down and hear their case. As the date of the hearing approached, the man got wind of what was coming. He knew this judge. He was a man of integrity and had little use for those who took what was not theirs. 

The man got his friends to try and scare the woman. When that failed, they went to her friends. They offered them riches and land, whatever they wanted if they would only say the woman was lying. Her friends refused.

On the day of the hearing, the man and his friends invaded the woman’s land. They planned on seizing it and killing or imprisoning those with her. The man would have what he wanted by any means necessary. 

But the woman and her friends knew of the plot and so arranged to meet the judge in another location. When the men arrived all they found was an empty house. They ransacked it and set fire to her fields and went to figure out where they were. 

The judge sided with the woman. He told the man to return all the land he had stolen and to repay the woman for her losses. The man refused. He said he had nothing to do with what happened at her home, that his friends were acting on his own accord, and it was her fault for being so stupid. 

The woman wanted the man held accountable. The judge said it would require a jury of his peers, people in their community. The day of the trial loomed. The woman watched and took stock of what she saw around her, her proud homestead now in ruins, and wondered what would happen.

What do you think should happen?

Should the man be held accountable? Should someone who attempted to seize what was not theirs, something they had no right to, be made to face the consequence of their actions?

Your response to this story should not depend on whether you are friends with the man or the woman. Your response should not depend on whether or not you believe the man’s claims. Your responses should not depend on which side you support. 

Brene Brown once made the following statement:

Here’s what I believe:

  1. When the president of the United States calls immigrants animals or talks about grabbing pussy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman.
  2. If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May.
  3. If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed.
  4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?”

You can read the entire essay here (it’s well worth it). It is from her book Braving the Wilderness. 

Simply put, what is wrong is wrong regardless of who does it. We need to stop looking at WHO does things and instead look at WHAT was done. We cannot hold one set of standards for ourselves and our friends and then have a second standard for everyone else. Or, if we choose to do so, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. 

Our loyalty cannot be to a party. We cannot choose our reaction based on how we feel about the outcome. We cannot consider what might happen to us when faced with the choice of doing what is right.

If we are called to be impartial, we need to listen to the facts, what happened, what led us there, and not be tainted by our political allegiance, our pride, or our pocketbook. 

Back in 1868 the Republican led Congress attempted to impeach President Johnson for violating a law they established to keep him from firing the Secretary of War. The charges (11 in all) were paper thin. Mostly the Republicans wanted him out because he did not support their view of Reconstruction. 

The trial lasted five weeks! In the end, the Republicans came up one vote short. Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas cast the deciding vote. He knew it would cost him re-election. He knew it would cost him financially. It would hurt his family. Ross said, “Friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life desirable…were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth.” And they were. He lost the next election and died in poverty. 

But still, Ross did what was right. He chose to stand against his party and vote no to a sham of an impeachment trial that literally was a witch hunt to oust someone the Republicans did not like. (Which, for the record, is not the same as what is happening today.)

Image via LA Times

We need to take a step back and view the events of January 6 from a neutral eye. We need to look at what we can see: men and women storming the Capitol while Congress finalizes an election. We need to listen to what those arrested are saying about their motivation. We need to carefully examine how they got there. 

Then we need to stop and decide if what led there is acceptable. We need to judge a president not based on his party, but on his actions. It should not take us having to tell people to “imagine he was from the other side” for people to admit his actions were wrong.  

People are being told to vote their conscience, and I think they should. But conscience cannot get lost in party loyalty, the potential for re-election, or in retaining voters. 

This is a moment for those we have elected to choose what America they want. Are we okay with leaders using their position to usurp the process when they lose? Are we okay with people using violence to get their way? Are we okay with organized groups going into the seat of power with lists of people they are looking to kill, shouting death to one person or another, telling their friends to, “turn on the gas”? Are we okay with that rhetoric coming out of the mouths of those elected to this seat of power? 

This time these actions benefitted one party. Next time, it could be their names on that list and that reality alone should cause some to pause. (To think the mob will always be supporting your side is incredibly ignorant, especially if you sit back now and say that inciting mob violence is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.) 

We need our representatives to look at the evidence based on merit, not on party or loyalty, and decide if what happened on January 6 is how we want America to operate from now on. Are these behaviors and actions we want to say are okay when people do not get their way? 

Truth does not change based on who is involved. 
What is wrong is wrong regardless of who does it.

I leave you with another story. 

Once there was a man who fancied himself powerful. He gathered a party of rebels around him and attempted to coup a portion of his country. Met with police force, the coup failed and its leader fled to the countryside. The man was captured and charged with treason. He was found guilty at his trial and served nine months in prison. The man then realized it was not by resistance or force that he could get what he wanted but by using and usurping legal means. 

The government had the opportunity to bar this man from future political aspirations but chose not to. Ten years later this man overthrew his country and most of Europe, plunging us into World War II.

What we do today matters. The message we send today matters. What we do with those who attempt to usurp democracy for their own gain, matters. We need our leaders to look at this not from the perspective of party loyalty, but one that looks at the greatest experiment in the world and says what is and is not acceptable – regardless of who did it. 

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