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Daniel Bruch column: Resetting our moral compass

Daniel Bruch

Daniel Bruch is a Hudson business owner

My spouse and I like to eat breakfast at local restaurants. One of our favorite places is a local bar/restaurant combination where the price is right, the food is good, the bartender/waiter and cook are favorite people and the customers offer personal insights (often vehemently) on all the controverted issues of the day.

On a recent visit, a discussion at the bar seemed to produce more heat than light, leading the bartender/waiter to say, as he delivered our breakfast, "We just need to return to our moral compass." I agreed, but then wondered exactly what we mean by wanting to follow a "moral compass." Maybe we can just agree that by placing the word "moral" in front of "compass," we are speaking about the mental processes we use that direct our attitudes and behaviors in life. Of course we must admit that one person's moral compass might not point in the same direction as another person's.

Nonetheless, 242 years of living together in the community we call the USA has produced certain shared values under law and experience that reflect our moral compass. These primary values include respect, tolerance, honesty and integrity.

Respect means to value self and others. It is living with dignity and showing dignity toward others. Being closed-minded, critical and maintaining a superior attitude with regard to one's values is destructive of our relationships with others.

Tolerance means that we are willing to put up with something we consider either wrong or displeasing, but not so much that we feel compelled to constrain it. It does not mean that must we approve of something as good when we consider it otherwise. Tolerance, however, is essential in an imperfect world. Why? Because we all have family members, friends and acquaintances who are people we like but, as with every human, they can also be annoying or exhibit undesirable traits. Without tolerance we would be involved in power struggles or fruitless battles to make each person perfect according to our own standards. Being tolerant means that we accept less desirable aspects in people (using our personal definitions) in order to attain higher values such as respect, kindness, harmony, friendship, mercy, etc.

Honesty means more than not lying, as important as that is. It also means not doing things that break the law or are considered morally wrong. Honesty is about speaking and acting truthfully. It includes not hiding the truth, not breaking rules to gain an advantage, not taking something that isn't yours, or any other action that you would hide because it is against what you consider morally or legally right.

Without a cultural agreement on the importance of truth-telling, and a cultural demonstration of honesty in daily living, a culture quickly slips into prejudice, bigotry, xenophobia and division.

Integrity is about doing the right thing even when it's not acknowledged by others, or convenient for you. An individual with integrity is the antidote to self-interest. Living with integrity is behaving honestly and practicing ethical behavior in your interactions. It is avoiding political and self-serving behavior. It is courageously standing up for what you believe in. It is being a role model for living your values.

If the next generations are going to be successful in navigating the many and diverse complexities that lie ahead, and do so in a manner that results in richer, deeper, and more meaningful lives, following these values will again help us to unite in vision and purpose.