Am I Right?

How to live ethically

Living in Difficult Times

It is when we are challenged that our character emerges

Every time has it own evil, but a human being can still be good, wrote Maria Dermoût, the late Indo-Dutch novelist.

Just as we judge the evils of times gone by, the future will pass its judgment upon us—what we did, how we let it happen, what we neglected. Certainly there is as much underserved great harm today as in times past. But what we know is that even in the worst of times, there were people who spoke out, stood up, and continued to be good, kind, and just.

Some periods make it easier to be virtuous than other times. Yet even under the worst of tyrannies, there are good people—noble spirits who manage to express themselves, extend a hand, and open their homes and their hearts to those in distress.

It is when we are challenged that our character emerges. It is then, under these difficult circumstances, that we attempt to find the balance between our inner and outer beings.

Compassion is always at hand, and the ability to express loving-kindness is always present.

This is what life is for: to live with others in such a way that love, peace, and justice may find a secure home, no matter how trying the times, even if that security lasts only for a day.

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Here is a story from Japan: A soldier wanted to know if there really was a heaven and a hell, so he set out to find a sage who could answer this profound question. When he came to a teacher widely known for her wisdom, the teacher asked with a hint of disdain, “Who are you to ask such a question?”

“A soldier!”

 “You call yourself a soldier? Come now. What ruler would have such as you? You look useless to me.”

The soldier became so angry that he drew his sword and held it above the teacher’s head.

“A sword?” the sage taunted. “It is probably so dull that it can’t even cut a piece of paper. And you are so weak that you probably can’t even swing it properly.”

As the soldier brought the sword up above his shoulder, the teacher said. “Ah, here are the gates of hell.”

The soldier understood and brought the sword down and put it back in the scabbard.

“And now you know that the gates of heaven have opened.” 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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