The Ready Room: Toward the moral life

And if you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.  

Mary Oliver–Long Life:  Essays and Other Writings

How do daily habits allow us to reach toward a moral life?  Let’s work backwards.  What sort of things would you say might define your life as moral?  Is it treating others the way you wish to be treated?  Is it lessening your carbon footprint for the good of the environment and all life that it supports?  Is it living more simply so that you can use your resources toward humanitarian causes?  Is it mindful management of your time so that you can volunteer in humanitarian works?  What does the moral life look like for you, for me?

Once we have some clarity about that (and I suspect that most thoughtful human beings walk around with a sense of what that is even if there is much about it that is “fuzzy”), we can begin to look at our daily habits.  How do I interact with the people in my life each day–at home, at work, in the neighborhood, in the grocery story, on the road while sitting in traffic?  Do I turn lights out when I leave a room, lower or raise the thermostat to use less fuel, carpool, recycle?  Do I re-purpose objects and clothing to live more simply?  Do I limit my television time for better purposes?  I am not listing any set of rules for anyone, but I am asking the kinds of questions about my daily habits that might express themselves in a moral life shaped by such habits.  I am even suggesting that by asking about our daily habits and how they may or may not extend into what we would call a moral life the struggle itself results in a life that begins to be moral.

A moral life, a good life, a life-well lived are all ideas that abstract easily and begin to sound too much like they are someone else’s life.  My habits, however, put my hands and feet, my heart and mind into what my life is becoming.

Bob Patrick

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