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Margaret's Musings: The Golden Rule

The seed for this column was planted months ago. Then, as now, I hesitate to take on such a weighty topic.

Where do morals come from?

It wasn't the tragic incident itself, when the young Rutgers University student committed suicide after fellow students streamed live video of him onto the Internet that planted the seed. It was one of the suggested responses to the act that started my contemplation.

One of the ideas included in the thousands of media reports was that the university set up a class to teach students appropriate use of the new media available to them in this age of rapidly expanding technology, i.e. social networks, posting real time videos etc.

My immediate thought was why do adults in their 20s need a college level class to basically teach them right from wrong?

Didn't they learn the Golden Rule when they were growing up: "Do onto others as you would have them do unto you."

It seems some version of the Golden Rule has been represented in cultures, religions and philosophies for more than a few centuries from Christianity to Islam, ancient Greeks to Confucianism.

So back to my original question regarding morals, the Webster's New World Dictionary defines moral as: relating to, dealing with, or capable of making the distinction between right and wrong in conduct.

Today, they say we as a nation have lost our moral compass. That led me to consider that ethics and values have some determination if an individual, group or, in fact, nation is moral.

Not being a student of philosophy, I found ethics can be defined as the system or code of morals for individuals, religions or professional groups, which means ethics can be situational as well. So apparently you can bend the Golden Rule to fit the ethics of your situation.

It gets pretty murky determining right from wrong, if you go down the path of business ethics. So what started out as research to write this column turned to an educational eye-opener.

While scanning text (on the Internet) for more background on ethics I found this little reference on a site called "wordiq." "Gresham's law of ethics applies in which bad ethical practices drive out good ethical practices. It is claimed that in a competitive business environment, those companies that survive are the ones that recognize that their only role is to maximize profits. On this view, the competitive system fosters a downward ethical spiral." This seems to sum up, in one line, what contributed mightily to our current economic and moral condition in the United States today.

This week we will continue to listen to the need to change the rhetoric in America after the tragic shooting spree in Tucson. Whether we are talking about big business or personal interaction, doesn't this all go back to morals and the new catch word, civility, being uttered by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to President Barack Obama.

While the advances in technology are simply amazing, with technological advances come power and power requires the notion of responsibility which goes back to idea of having morals.

The students at Rutgers used the power of technology, without regard for consequences. I have heard of family units completely breaking down because of verbal wars on social networks.

Perhaps we all need to take a breath, especially the younger members in the network of society and utter the Golden Rule with an added phrase: Would I do or say this to someone if they were standing in front of me in the flesh, not a 2-inch by 3-inch image on my smart phone or a text box.

Doesn't the Golden Rule still work even in this age of instant communication if we just all apply it? Maybe there is an APP for it.