On Being an Ethical Person

“I just want to be a good person.”

For many people, and I don’t say this critically, faith really is that simple. We want to be ethical.

It is conventional to think that ethics is primarily about what we do. For instance, consider the homeless person you pass on the way to work. She reeks of alcohol and is smoking a cigarette.  She is not doing well and you feel a divine tug to help. She asks you for money. Should you give it to her?

If you say, “I’m sorry, but I cannot help” you will have told a lie. If you give her cash you may reinforce her dependency. If you drop everything and do whatever it takes to get her healthy and off the streets you will neglect your responsibilities at work and home. Is there a clear right thing to do?

If we pay close attention we will find ourselves in multiple ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. If ethics were primarily about what we do, a mere matter of making the right decision, we would have no chance of being ethical.

Jesus did not think that ethics was primarily about what we do, but rather about who we are. For Jesus ethics is a matter of the heart, of learning to cultivate a character that makes us a conduit through which God’s love flows from us to other people in the midst of the many wise and foolish decisions we make. “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.”

Do you want to be an ethical person? Consider that ethics has little or nothing to do with the decision and everything to do with the decider.