On Bacon and Morality

In my daily travels, I find myself having interactions with all different types of people from a variety of different national, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. If it is obvious to me that a person is a first or even second generation immigrant, I try to politely ask about his or her background, making it clear that I am merely curious because I like to learn about different cultures and customs. Being a conflicted introvert-extrovert hybrid, I find that this is a good ice-breaker for conversation because it is something I am genuinely interested in about people. One such interaction I had was with a worker at a national sandwich chain.

The gentleman I was talking to revealed to me that he was from Pakistan and that he was a Muslim. As the interaction continued, he expressed to me a frustration he had regarding the circumstance he found himself in. His religion, he explained to me, forbade him from eating or handling pork products, but his employer required him to handle pork products in order to serve their customers. What upset him most was that his employer was also a Muslim Pakistani and had chosen to operate a business that violated their religious-moral code. The way the man explained it to me, franchisees were given the option to run a pork-free business, but the owner chose that which he considered to be most financially beneficial over his own religious-moral convictions and, by working there, this employee was complicit in what he considered to be a ‘sin.’ He had made up his mind to quit.

With only a superficial understanding of the Islamic religion and even less knowledge of Pakistani cultural customs, I have no real opinion on either. The exchange did cause me to pause and reflect, however. I began asking myself, “Is it worth it?” How many of our moral convictions do we have to violate, and at what frequency, before we are no longer ‘good?’ Does it actually matter or is morality simply a social, cultural, or religious construct? Is it like a health-meter on a video game that diminishes with every mistake, intentional or accidental, overt or covert, and can it be replenished?

Is there some immutable moral coding set in our DNA by nature or by God or the gods, tied to the essence of our being, our soul if you will, that we must conform to lest we suffer mental, emotional, and even physical consequences? Are there times when we are exempted from this code based on the necessity of survival? Morality, in my estimation, is the opposite of exploitive opportunism, but it is also something deeply personal and I have enough difficulty navigating my own to judge others by how they navigate theirs.

 Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

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