Let Us Take Our Ethical Temperature -Elul

For The New Year-A Time to Take Our Ethical Temperature – A Heshbon Hanefesh- An Accounting for the Soul

To begin, we need a spiritual check up. We need to take our ethical temperature. The thermometer should be sensitive enough to give us readings on ourselves as individuals, members of families and of communities, as citizens of a country and of countries and on a wider scale, as  nation collectivities, and in these contexts to register opportunities missed, responsibilities avoided, privileges misused, rights abused, and duties fulfilled to less than the best of our abilities.

That is not to say that any reading will not have its variables or margin of error; and who is to say, to someone else, whose reading is accurate? This temperature-taking is, after all, a matter of conscience, to be conducted by each individual person, in his own little corner of contemplated space.

One does not even have to record his findings on a chart for others to see. The relationship is that of doctor and patient, each embodied in one and the same person; however, if a goodly number would engage in this process, who knows but that the test might prove to be a cure for the illnesses and deficiencies suspected, an instrument to serve us, not only in the luxury of a tranquil moment, but during times of burning issues.

It might also point to new directions for decision-making, in areas of life as widely separated, or as closely fused, as friendship, marriage, family, or, for that matter local, national and global-level participation.

Thoughtlessness, or desensitization to tragedy and suffering, might render the whole exercise meaningless; and where feeling has been obliterated, we require the intervention of reason. On the other hand, where emotions have drowned out reason or where the individual has been hypnotized into a state of blind fanaticism, even the possibility of taking the ethical temperature is put in doubt. This is not meant to spark an abstract philosophical debate devoid of present realities but for that which is categorically good, truthful, right or just or in another sense, to suggest strategies for obtaining the clearest of possible readings.

Except for oneself, there is no judge, arbiter or physician who will perform the examination or define or delineate the categories, so that even former lip-service and hypocrisy can be dealt with in the privacy of each individual mind without public embarrassment or blushing; and, no one will reveal his temperature as a matter of fact; any public announcement of the results might only serve to prove another one’s arrogance or self-effacement and thus render the whole exercise useless.

The most often asked question, “ how are you”, would not require a response with regard to one’s individual or collective, ethical state of health; although it would be most encouraging, if each one would, periodically, ask himself, or herself, the question; and, if need be, repeat taking one’s ethical temperature.

So far, the key questions have been avoided. How, in practical application, does one take one’s ethical temperature? And, then, once that is determined, what is the actual range, or scale, of such a thermometer? From the doing of good, or wanting to be repaid, to pure altruism? What is its degree of accuracy? Ah, but that is for each individual to decide between oneself and one’s conscience! The reading may establish that both are present, and are one and the same. The aim is to find out!


About the Author
Michel M.J. Shore is a retired judge of the Federal Court of Canada and recently made a home in Israel. He is the writer of several published books and poetry collections.