We reside in strange and challenging times that require ethical approaches to life-threatening issues, but ethics has gone wanting.
Over the past several decades the scientific community has set generally accepted ethical principles to guide scientific research. Mark Chang, the co-founder of the International Society for Biopharmaceutical Statistics, expands on these principles in his 2014 book, Principles of Scientific Methods.
There are six fundamental ethical principles that guide scientific research:
- Honesty—do not fabricate, fudge, trim, cook, destroy, or misrepresent data.
- Carefulness—do not be sloppy and strive to avoid careless errors.
- Freedom—free to pursue new ideas and criticize old ones.
- Openness—share data, results, methods. Allow people to see your work.
- Credit—give credit where credit is due.
- Public Responsibility—report research to public media when
- it has an important and direct bearing on human happiness, and
- has been sufficiently validated by scientific peers.
As we face the ravages of an ongoing pandemic, it is critical to trust what we are told by those in authority. The scientific principles guide the researchers and provide the context for the credibility of their findings. “Social distancing” is a prime example of trusting research, listening to authority, and applying the ethic to our own lives. When the findings and recommended actions coming from scientific research are not trusted or are ignored, chaos reigns.
These scientific principles apply to politics as well. Polis, from Latin and Greek, is the English word “politics.” It means “citizen” and speaks to how we relate to each other and share in our common humanity. Polis means every citizen in our world, country, state, and city. Politics happens when citizen elected representatives act with personal integrity, apply objective research information to issues, and make agreements so that all can live together in groups such as tribes, cities, or countries. The word does not carry a negative connotation, just the opposite…it brings us together. Doing politics is hard because we have different understandings on how issues should be addressed.
However,we can work together politically when we are:
- honest and do not misrepresent,
- careful and not be sloppy with our thoughts and actions,
- free to express our thoughts, learn from each other, and change or compromise our personal views and understandings,
- open to sharing what we think and document why rather than relying on emotion alone,
- give credit to others for their thoughtful work even if we differ, and
- express our public responsibility by caring for others rather than just ourselves.
Politics is not limited to finding “common ground” but understands decisions are best made through compromise when there are opposing views, shared documented information, and the common goal of working on behalf of all citizens. In recapturing and living such a political life we rise out of the muck of personal greed, power hunger, and condemning “the other” that so many of us are currently bound by.
As I write this I am reminded of Daniel Moynihan’s famous quote: “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Being “old” at a time such as this can be depressing. Time can bore us. Overwhelming societal need can steal hope and rob our sense of personal value. We can feel like a vulnerable and helpless pawn.
On the other hand, old age can be a gift to society. The ancient Romans relied on the wisdom of old age to fill their most important seat in government, the Senatus. The word Senex (translates “Senate”) means “old” and was an “assembly of old men with a connotation of wisdom and experience.”
The Roman Senatus was a body designed to provide reasoned and balanced guidance to the Roman state and its people. While in our own time we would not limit wisdom to one gender or only the aged, there is value in what the time-tested sage can bring to our individual and political lives as we navigate through troubled waters.
In old age we can express the time-tested values of honesty, careful discernment of ideas, freedom to express, discuss, debate the implications of the objective information, and acknowledge our shared responsibility to care for the good of all. We bring the perspective of life-long experience, successes, and failures to the discussion.
Such an understanding of science, politics, and the citizen guides our personal lives as well:
Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow.
But if we are wise,
We know there is always tomorrow.
Lean on me when you’re not strong
I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.
For it won’t be long
Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.
You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on.
These words were written and sung by Bill Withers who died on March 30, 2020, from heart complications at age 81. He left us a gift written in 1972 that speaks in such a time as this. Bill Withers understood the power of real politics, the strength and future that is to be found in caring for one another.
His family wrote: “He spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other….In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”
The road to our recovery is often the road less traveled. Recovery is more than finding a vaccine for Coronavirus. It is finding ourselves, coming together as citizens, and striving to live with an attitude of caring for our neighbor as we do ourselves. It is politics at its best.
This, with all its idealism, is the road to our recovery as citizens of a great land.
Written by: Hartzell Cobbs
Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization. He is the author of the recent book, RavenWind, that is available through outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing. His first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A Spiritual Approach to Aging, is available through Amazon.
More about Dr. Cobbs’ latest book, Ravenwind…
From ancient lore, down millenniums, traveling through worldwide mythologies, legends, and folktales, the mythical raven is entwined in the history of mankind. Most researchers agree that about twenty thousand years ago the first Americans came from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to what is now North America. The Siberians and their shamans were accompanied by the mythical raven who mediated between the physical and spiritual worlds.
With the Siberian influence, Northwest Native American mythology speaks of the raven as creator, destroyer, and trickster. As in Siberia, raven soars on the wind between the great spirit/mystery and the physical world. Raven teaches respect for earth and the oneness of all that is.
In RavenWind, author Hartzell Cobbs offers at look at the raven’s role in world history and in Native American myths, legends, and folktales. He tells how the raven of folklore calls one to follow, to listen, and experience life with all its complexity, insight, ambiguity, contraction, and humor. With an emphasis on Native American tradition, Cobbs explores the presence of mythical raven in the mundane.