Ethics and Our Environment

Ethics is primarily associated with people’s social existence.

This science of moral duty and our regard for morals and morality usually considers the relationship of individual human beings with each other.

As far as ethics applies to different phases of life, such as the various professions and businesses, these ideas in everyday thinking are concerned mainly with problems of interrelationship between individuals.

This vast concept of the methods and practices of human beings in their relations among themselves is a subject that cannot be an exact science. Therefore, it is not presuming too much to believe that even before the problem of ethics can be solved, we need to consider expanding the subject itself beyond the relationship of individuals to one another.

However, we’re not an island, as John Donne tells us in his poem.

We’re not completely separate from the other parts of our environment. As individuals, we can be treated as if we were in many respects separate from all else, but even sociologists and psychologists have repeatedly emphasised that we are all a composite of our individual physical being and the environment in which we live.

As individuals we depend upon the rest of the world for the continuance of our existence, and it is from our physical environment that we obtain whatever we need to continue to live: food, air and drink.

As physical beings, we’re dependent upon these physical sources in order to survive, and to develop mentally, physically and emotionally.

There is maintained, however, during the span of our earthly existence a spark of life that isn’t limited to this physical world and that of the immediate environment of our body.

This is an area of life usually reserved for religion, but it is not necessarily a fact that everything of an immaterial nature, that may have value to us, has to fall under the category of such a mindset.

Living our Life

Our emotions, our reactions to life, our values in areas that are not measurable by physical standards, are also part of this nonmaterial world.

Beyond the physical where material values lose their continuity or their maintenance of value, there lie other values such as love, friendship, confidence and faith. These values are part of our experience and are related to our environment in the sense that we’re related to other living beings on the same mental, spiritual and emotional plane.

Nevertheless, as far as our physical existence is concerned, there’s an area of life which extends beyond us.

Our environment, being primarily a physical one while on Earth, is composed not only of other people but also other living creatures.

They live just as we do. The same spark of life that exists in us lives in such a multitude of different forms in the world that we’re merely one individual segment of that expression of life.

We’re more familiar with life forms as they appear in the animal kingdom, and it would seem, by superficial observation, that human beings predominate in the manifestation of life on our planet.

But actually, as a biological entity, we’re only one species in a vast multitude of life forms inconceivable to the average person.

There are thousands of expressions of life not even visible to us. These are found in the lowest form of life such as bacteria, protozoa and other minute forms needing a microscope to even reveal their existence.

If our whole existence is to be a complement to the expression of life which we find about us, then this environment of life is also a significant factor in dealing with life as a possession and as a means of expression.

Not so Supreme

The attitude that humankind has had at various stages of history in regard to other forms of life varies in many ways.

There has traditionally been a belief ingrained in our consciousness that human beings are the supreme manifestation of life and that all other forms should be subservient.

Humankind has used various forms of life in many ways. One example which comes to mind is the domestication of animals and the use of them and vegetable life as food.

Dominated by various philosophies, many people have taken the attitude that generally, all life forms have been provided for them to dominate and to use as they please, even to exploit.

For that reason, untold thousands of species of life that once shared the world with us are no longer here. There are many species of animals, birds and plants that are not present today because of the neglect or wanton destruction of man.

As an example, when North America was first settled, the Eastern part of it was covered by a vast deciduous forest, which was a natural habitat, or a natural growth of life in that part of our planet.

Many forms of life lived in that forest, including people and animals. European expansion in the Americas brought with it the wholesale felling and destruction of forestland, thereby destroying the habitat upon which much of the animal life depended. Not only that, with no regard for their fellow human beings, the indigenous native people were treated abysmally, and reduced to a category almost subhuman.

As a result, no living person today can describe, from first-hand knowledge, the biological expression of the continent on which the American and Canadian people now live. This is such a loss, and it is only in comparatively recent years that conservation movements have attempted to formulate ways of preserving the remaining expressions of life that are our privilege to share on this planet.

The conservation movement is, in a sense, a recognition of the fact that there exists a higher ethic for humankind to follow than a mere code of laws to govern morality in our dealings with our fellow men and women.

The expression of all forms of life and all forms of environment as it exists in the world is a divine-given gift of which we need to understand that we are merely a part.

Our purpose is to evolve to a higher level of perfection; but in order to fulfil that purpose, we must face up to our obligations and responsibilities with all other possible expressions of life living here with us, and formulate a system of ethics concerning them.

The persecution of life in any form is degrading to our dignity as human beings, and it is our duty to make use of our environment, but not necessarily to exploit it purely for our own enjoyment, benefit or convenience.

We live in three worlds: a physical world, a universal world in which many living forms express themselves, and a spiritual world in which we preserve our values, to be carried on to a more transcendent level.

The day will come when we have to account for the way we have made use of our environment.

Therefore, we should, for our own benefit, if for no other reason, learn about the life and forces around us and attempt to devise a system of ethics that realises that life is endowed with a divine essence, a segment of the Cosmic itself.

This is such an important part of the life of every Rosicrucian.

The whole expression of life must function harmoniously as a unit if this world upon which it manifests is to reach a state of harmonious balance. This would provide the environment and means by which we could attain our ultimate goal or purpose.

Adaptation of ‘Ethics and our Environment’ by Mark Cornwall, from the Rosicrucian Beacon, December 2012.

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