The earlier installments of NOT SO STRAIGHT-AND NARROW can be found at
click here is Part I of the introductory chapter, "Shaken to My Moral Foundations"
click here is chapter 2, "Searching for Bedrock: What Makes Something Good."
Here now is chapter 3:
By Their Fruits:
How Can We Know What's Right to Do?
The appeal of moral structures. </em>
Something you should know about me. As far as I can remember, I have never --and I think I would remember any exceptions-- broken a promise. Honest. I swear I am telling the truth about this, to the best of my knowledge.
Keeping promises is very important to me. I do make promises, and I make them very carefully. If you are among that small group of people (I believe I'm actually the only one) who has read everything I've ever published, you know that my first marriage did not last forever. But I never broke a marriage vow. We wrote our own ceremony, and instead of "until death do us part," which we didn't believe in, we swore "as long as our love shall last." When I promise things to my kids --like "tomorrow I'll play soccer with you"-- I throw in some boiler-plate like, "if the weather permits and no unforeseen circumstances intervene to make it impossible." Given those caveats, my kids know they can count on me to do what I said I would.
You already know [from the introductory chapter at <a href="click here that I can't say that I have never lied, but I haven't done it much. As you've gathered, my moral thinking got more complex on me in my early adulthood, so although solemn promises have somehow escaped my moral revisionism, I no longer treat as a completely firm rule that I should invariably tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth in all my dealings with a world I consider somewhat corrupt. But in my dealings with those people with whom honor and intimacy are at the core of the relationship, I do not lie.
I have always aspired to be a "good man," and deeply enmeshed in my image of a good man has been, from the beginning, the concept of integrity. Of the qualities of my father that I appreciated and admired, I can't think of any that stand higher than this: that he was a man of integrity. The kind of integrity revealed by a man like Thomas More --in Robert Bolt's play <em>A Man for All Seasons</em>-- also embodies that ideal for me. So many people are willing to sell out whatever they believe in to advance their own interests --to get ahead, or to protect themselves from harm-- it is inspiring to contemplate a man who will place the ideals that are important to him above his own selfish concerns. That's my idea of a hero, a man like Thomas More who had the courage to stand on principle, whose heart was guided by the passion to do the right thing, and who grasped that all it takes to do it is moral commitment and courage. Like the Gandhi of the movie, whose commitment to the principle of non-violence he held more dear than his life.