Sometimes, ethics doesn’t look like what you would expect. Ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos, which gives a connotation of specificity. I believe everyone’s ethic is personal, and it is probably the closest thing to selfhood I can think of in these postmodern times.

I do not know where my ethical nature has come from. As much as I may try to work with it and analyze it, it remains very much, at its root, an instinctual thing.


Some people grow up in an environment that nurtures their ethic. Others, having been raised in an ethical void, must forge this out of sheer will and determination. It matters not. An ethic, if strong, is undeniably, beautifully, unique to an individual and that individual’s life experience, regardless of how it is revealed. And an ethic, if strong, will shine through a person.

You have probably met such a person in your life. You will recognize this quality immediately. It need not be loud to have an irrepressible force. You will know them by their liberation for they are truly themselves and cannot be otherwise.

In this way, a human is without limit. To become ethical is to be plunged into the infinite. One is never finished.

I’ll never have an ethic like those of the people I admire and that is okay.

My ethic moves toward total forgiveness. I tend to forget slights easily. I am drawn to all manner of weakness, hypocrisy and cruelty. I spend an inordinate amount of time with people who are deeply flawed, who struggle, who the rest of the society would write off, who I don’t even trust. I might even befriend them. And they need not be afraid of saying the wrong thing, need not concern themselves with appearing a certain way. Their ugliest thoughts and deeds cannot make them any less than what they are to me, cannot reduce them as human beings. I might disagree with them, speak to a differing point of view, argue even, but I will not judge them. And even as some would devastate me, I would still want to see the world from their eyes.

I think some people would consider this a vulnerable position and it is. So I will share with you a story.

When I was younger, I had a particularly vicious and deceitful boss with a knack for making grown adults cry. Suffice it to say that others who had a longer tenure in the organization would remark to me how long I had remained in the position which had an unsurprizingly high turnover rate. My reason for staying was purely pragmatic: I needed the money and the position was strategically sound.

What I found most acutely stressful was every morning when I came into work. The first thing my boss would do after I had clocked in was to run me through a series of tests that were designed to make me fail. I believe this was her idea of training. Everyday brought a new test I could not study for. I became very stressed at this treatment, but in addition, I became curious. I wanted to know, as I have always wanted to know: who is this woman that everyone else shuns and avoids? I wanted to know her.

One morning, to satisfy my curiousity, I looked deeply into the eyes of my boss during one of my tests. It was not a glare, but a steady, open, probing gaze. I did not blink; I was determined to see her. And to my surprize, I saw in her eyes, her own fear and defeat, her utter weakness. She averted her gaze almost shamefully and I knew that she knew that I had seen the truth of her. She could not finish the test and I was not to be tested again. And even though she held a position of authority over me, even as I was subjected to other forms of deceit and humiliation, after that morning, we both knew that she had lost all real power over me.

I never tried to be this way, it simply is. That is an ethic.