order to be free, in order to gain the autonomy that accompanies
moral integrity, we need to understand how vulnerable we are to
the opinions of those around us, especially in our formative years,
where lifelong values are formed. It we do not, if we fail to liberate
our moral discernment from the ambient values that are forced upon
us, our quest becomes superficial and largely unproductive. The
facts and lessons we gain are distorted to fit preconceived ideas
rather than establish a living, lasting relationship with truth.
To illustrate the dynamics that we face, and
how natural and benign they appear, I will share an experience that
happened to me that really opened my eyes.
Early on in my career, I was told that Connecticut
state employment law provides a mandate that workers be given a
paid break for every four hours that they work straight. Where I
worked, we were allowed one fifteen minute break in the morning,
and one in the afternoon. Both workers and supervisors understood
this. My parents and everyone I knew agreed.
Other jobs I had over the years recognized this
law. Some included an actual migration of workers away from the
desks and workstations at specific times for "coffee breaks."
Just yesterday, a co-worker told me that she
had never heard of this law and questioned if it were real.
I assured her with all confidence that it was,
and went to the employee rights posters to find it. I could
not. That did not stop me, of course. I asked other co-workers,
and they all confirmed that this was the law in Connecticut. One
person thought it was a federal law.
I turned to a reference librarian I knew for
his opinion. He said that he thought the law was still in effect.
I still needed something more substantial to
prove my point, and turned to the Internet. To my surprise, over
and over again, on several web sites, I read how Connecticut law
does not provide mandatory break times, even for lunch break, unless
the employee works more than 7 ½ hours in the day.
Flabbergasted, I had to admit that I was wrong,
and that my previous opinion was based on hearsay and nothing more.
It was kind of embarrassing, but enlightening as well.
I had always heard that this law existed. Everyone
I knew also believed that it did, except for the woman who questioned
me. Their supportive consensus convinced me beyond a shadow of a
doubt that it was fact.
We were all wrong!
It got me wondering how many other things we
believe in that are equally wrong but we never question?
Children learn from their parents, families,
friends and teachers, as they should. They pick up political ideologies
and religious views mostly from those around them, as if by osmosis.
Chances are the child will accept liberal or conservative views
as their own from what they hear and believe is fact. Same with
religion. There are social pressures that maintain this dynamic.
If you want to be accepted, you have to hold views that are similar
to those around you.
I am reminded of the words of Jesus when
he said to Nicodemus that we must be born again.
What does this mean, other than confronting the world as a new born
child to learn everything anew. How else can we find truth in a
world that constantly defines it for us in so many different and
We can excuse ourselves from challenging current
values and opinions by falling back on tradition. But is it the
right tradition? We have many traditions. When we adhere to
one that tells us not to question things, to not think for ourselves,
I think we are betraying the most significant tradition that defines
the greatness of our cultural past.
we to proudly cast ourselves as children of thoughtless repetition,
repressive ideologies and endless party bickering as the world cries
out for something better? Or as children born from the Age of Enlightenment,
from whom the world has been blessed time and time again? Are we
to say that truth does not matter? Only opinion, fear and anger?
Is that the best we can do?
quest is ours if we take it, if we live it, if we learn from experience
and compassion every day. This is the challenge of today's Knight-Errant.