Ethics for the New Millenium: Modern Society and the Quest for Human Happiness

Ethics for the New Millennium is addressed to a general audience. It presents a moral framework based on universal rather than religious principles. It rests on the observation that those whose conduct is ethically positive are happier and more satisfied and the belief that much of the unhappiness we humans endure is actually of our own making. Its ultimate goal is happiness for every individual, irrespective of religious belief.

Though the Dalai Lama is himself a practicing Buddhist, his approach to life and the moral compass that guides him can be of use to each and every one of us – Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist or atheist – in our quest to lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

According to the Dalai Lama our survival has depended and will continue to depend on our basic goodness as human beings. In the past, the respect people had for their religion helped maintain ethical practice through a majority following one religion or another.

Today, with the growing secularization and globalization of society, we must find a way that transcends religion to establish consensus as to what constitutes positive and negative conduct, what is right and wrong and what is appropriate and inappropriate. 

Closer examination reveals a “link between our disproportionate emphasis on external progress and the unhappiness, the anxiety and the lack of contentment of modern society.” People in modern societies have a greater dependence on machines and services with much greater independence/autonomy relative to other human beings. This creates a sense that “others are not important to my happiness and their happiness is not important to me.” People therefore tend to relationships and human connection less and less such that the community and belonging that characterizes less wealthy rural societies is replaced by a high degree of loneliness and isolation. Additionally, our focus on growth and progress leads to competitiveness, envy and stress as we attempt to “keep up with the Jones’s”. Our basic desire for happiness is severely hampered.

Science as religion. Within this context, the extraordinary achievements of science and technology have caused it to replace religion as the final source of knowledge in popular estimation. Thus science stands beside, or in place of, religion for many people.

There is a danger of inappropriate and blind elevation of scientific principles to an absolute status, without conscious reflection and thoughtful choice as to what is right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. Science, business and technology surround us, yet they do not address the issues of how to lead a moral life and how to be happy – the inner dimensions that define and motivate positive ethical conduct.

Image by Emmanuel Catteau

Ethical problems. Many of the problems of modern life–crime, abusive relationships, addictions, divorce, and suicide–are fundamentally ethical problems. They differ from the sufferings of sickness, old age and death in that none of these problems are by nature inevitable. They are of our own making.

As we strive to gain happiness and fulfillment via material gain, we limit ourselves to satisfaction at the level of the senses. While this may be enough for animals, it is not enough for our uniquely human cognitive, emotional, imaginative and critical faculties. Our inner dimension must be cared for if we are to “enjoy the same degree of harmony and tranquility as those more traditional communities while benefiting fully from the material developments of the world.”

Reflection Questions

1. The Dalai Lama suggests that the desire to be happy and avoid suffering is universal. What is it you seek in your life …at the soul level?

2. Quote from page 7: “We find modern living organized so that it demands the least possible direct dependence on others.”
Name three ways this is true for you.
Name three dependencies that do exist in your life.
Reflecting on what you’ve shared, what do you make of this statement and how your dependence/independence impacts your life?

3. Quote from page 10: “Many people, believing that science has ‘disproven’ religion, make the further assumption that because there appears to be no final evidence for any spiritual authority, morality itself must be a matter of individual preference.”
What strikes you as you read this statement?
What experiences come to mind as supporting or refuting it for you and others you know?
What are the implications or results in our world?
How have you tended to or ignored your “inner dimension”? What links do you see to the ethical problems in your family and community?

Image by Frost777

Practice Exercise

Develop a practice to attend to your inner dimension on a daily basis…for example journaling, meditation, prayer, daily reflection with another, a walk in nature. 

From The 15th Annual Gandhi-King Season for Nonviolence Jan. 30 to Apr. 4, 2012


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Copyright © 2011-2012 Nadine Marie V. Niguidula, M.A. and Aligning With Truth