CXXXIX: Say: Let truthfulness and courtesy be your adorning. Suffer not yourselves to be deprived of the robe of forbearance and justice, that the sweet savours of holiness may be wafted from your hearts upon all created things.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh)
This Wronged One exhorteth the peoples of the world to observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind. Happy are they who have attained thereto and woe betide the heedless.
(Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh – page 36)
I was both surprised and encouraged to find that quite a number of people have downloaded the course materials that I’ve been posting over the last four weeks. I therefore thought it might be worthwhile publishing two sets of materials I worked on a few years ago. They overlap and have some common elements but seem sufficiently different in other respects to justify publishing both sets, one today and the second next Thursday. The title of this set is derived from a quotation from a letter written by the Universal House of Justice describing how we should be seeking to communicate with one another:
We return to the phenomenal characteristics of speech. Content, volume, style, tact, wisdom, timeliness are among the critical factors in determining the effects of speech for good or evil. Consequently, the friends need ever to be conscious of the significance of this activity which so distinguishes human beings from other forms of life, and they must exercise it judiciously. Their efforts at such discipline will give birth to an etiquette of expression worthy of the approaching maturity of the human race. Just as this discipline applies to the spoken word, it applies equally to the written word; and it profoundly affects the operation of the press.
Clearly these skills have never been more necessary if humanity is to solve its problems and avoid the further spread of war, persecution and conflict.
This is the link (A New Etiq of Exp) to the first set of materials. Below is a short extract, without illustrations: for the fully illustrated version see link.
Exploring Problems in Different Modes of Communication
Divide into groups of five or six. You will find you have a series of difficult moral dilemmas to explore.
You will attempt jointly to enhance your understanding of each one in turn with a view to deciding what the best thing is to do and why. Do not worry if you do not deal with all four dilemmas. The purpose is to experience the three different ways of discussing them.
The discussion will take place in three phases.
In the first phase, lasting ten minutes, every group member will, according to his or her understanding, be courteous and tolerant to a fault, even if it means compromising the expression of his or her true opinion in order to avoid giving offence.
In the second phase, lasting ten minutes, each group member will be as uncompromisingly forthright as possible, manifesting truthfulness and righteousness, as (s)he understands it, in their least appealing forms short of insult.
In the last phase, lasting fifteen minutes or so, every group member will be seek to combine truthfulness with courtesy and tolerance with righteousness, as they best understand those words at this point.
This will provide much food for thought later when we are looking at the Writings.
(These are adapted from Moral Minds by Marc D. Hauser (Little, Brown 2007: pages 114-119). For similar tests of moral thinking go to this link.)
Problem One: Bystander Denis
Denise is a passenger on an out of control tram. The driver has fainted and the tram is headed toward five people walking on the track; the banks are so steep that they will not be able to get off the track in time. The track has a side track leading off to the left, and Denise can turn the tram onto it. There is, however, one person on the left-hand track. Denise can turn the tram, killing the one; or she can refrain from flipping the switch, letting the five die.
Question: Is it morally permissible for Denise to flip the switch, turning the tram onto the side track?
Problem Two (if you get this far): Bystander Frank
Frank is on a footbridge over the tram tracks. He knows trams and can see that the one approaching the bridge is out of control, with its driver passed out. On the track under the bridge there are five people; the banks are so steep that they will not be able to get off the track in time. Frank knows that the only way to stop an out-of-control tram is to drop a very heavy weight into its path. But the only available, sufficiently heavy weight is a large person also watching the tram from the footbridge. Frank can shove the large person onto the track in the path of the tram, resulting in death; or he can refrain from doing this, letting the five die.
Question: Is it morally permissible for Frank to push the large person onto the tracks?
Problem Three (if you get this far): Bystander Ned
Ned is taking his daily walk near the tram tracks when he notices that the approaching tram is out of control. Ned sees what has happened: the driver has passed out and the tram is headed towards five people walking on the track; the banks are so steep that the five hikers will not be able to get off the track in time. Fortunately, Ned is standing next to a switch that he can throw, which will temporarily turn the tram onto a side track. There is a heavy object on the side track. If the tram hits the object, the object will slow it down, thereby giving the hikers time to escape. The heavy object is, however, a large person standing on the side track. Ned can throw the switch, preventing the tram from killing the hikers, but killing the large person. Or he can refrain from doing this, letting the five hikers die.
Question: Is it morally permissible for Ned to throw the switch, turning the trolley onto the side track?
Problem Four (if you get this far): Bystander Oscar
Oscar is taking his daily walk near the tram tracks when he notices that the approaching tram is out of control. Oscar sees what has happened: the driver has passed out and the tram is headed towards five people walking on the track; the banks are so steep that the five hikers will not be able to get off the track in time. Fortunately, Oscar is standing next to a switch that he can throw, which will temporarily turn the tram onto a side track. There is a heavy object on the side track. If the tram hits the object, the object will slow it down, thereby giving the hikers time to escape. There is, however, a person standing on the side track, in front of the heavy object. Oscar can throw the switch, preventing the tram from killing the hikers, but killing the person in front of the weight. Or he can refrain from doing this, letting the five hikers die.
Question: Is it morally permissible for Oscar to throw the switch, turning the trolley onto the side track?
Questions for the Whole Group
We will then come back into the full group.
1. What were your experiences like in the three different modes? What were the costs and benefits of extreme courtesy/tolerance and of extreme truthfulness/ righteousness? Was it pleasant or unpleasant in each case? How easy was it to make yourselves behave in those ways? Was one mode easier than the other?
2. When you came to trying to balance truthfulness with courtesy and righteousness with tolerance, was it any different from the other two modes? What were the costs and benefits? Was it easier or more difficult than either or both of the other two?
3. Was it pleasanter? Did you experience balancing the two contrasting aspects in each as a razor’s edge? Were they in fact contrasting or was the relationship more complex than that?
4. In the end which mode, if any, was the best for getting to grips with these dilemmas?