Pleasure Without Conscience

Every week during Lent, we’re looking at Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins. So far, we’ve considered Politics Without PrincipalWealth Without Work, and Commerce Without Morality.

It’s easy to ignore certain social sins and rationalize how they don’t apply to you. After all, none of us like to think we really participate in anything not on the up-and-up. You might tell yourself:

I’m not a politician so I don’t really have to this about politics without principles. I’m certainly not wealthy and I have to work, so I don’t need to think about that one either. I don’t have a business so that frees me up to not think about morality.

Yeah, if you want to take each of these social sins at literal face value, you might be able to slide under the social sin-committer radar.

However we want to rationalize these social sins not applying to little ‘ole us, this one, pleasure without conscience, is really hard to ignore as not applying to us at all. Having a conscience and making choices is an inherent and integral part of our humanity and separates us from other animals. Conscience is that part of us that tells us whether our actions are right or wrong and figures prominently in all spiritual and philosophical traditions. Gandhi himself drew his principles for living and non-violence from the intersection of these spiritual and philosophical traditions. None of us are exempt.

Now that we’ve established we’re not exempt from this social sin, it’s time to look at what’s involved. There are some who think most forms of pleasure are wrong, however I am not of that group. I think we are created with the ability to experience pleasure. Our consciences help us regulate that pleasure. Indulging in pleasure without engaging our conscience is when we run the risk of crossing the imaginary boundary of acceptable and sin.

Enjoying an adult beverage at a social gathering may add to the pleasure of the evening out with friends. However, getting into a car and driving after having enjoyed that adult beverage (how many times is it really more than one adult beverage anyways), crosses the boundary of responsible behavior and puts yourself, and others, at risk. Drinking and driving is wrong.

Investing in my 401K is both responsible and pleasurable. Well, it’s probably more responsible than pleasurable, but the delayed gratification now will offer me opportunities for pleasure later. At least, that’s the goal. However, I also need to know where my investments are being made. The ethics of the companies I invest in matter. Are these companies engaged in human rights violation through their work practices? Are they contributing to degrading the environment by discharging harmful and toxic pollutants into waterways and the ground?

There’s nothing wrong with a comfortable home, reliable transportation, and taking a well-deserved vacation. Not having to worry about or struggle with safety and survival are what all of us want for ourselves and our families. There are some places, however, I will not go to for a vacation. I have many friends and family who have been to these places and that’s fine. For me, however, I get this sick feeling in my gut and can’t get beyond the reality outside the sequestered resort areas. I wouldn’t enjoy myself, even if I could rationalize how my American dollars might be contributing to the local economy.

Many in the world don’t have the luxury of these kinds of pleasurable choices. Their choices might be about having herbs to flavor a broth or a a vegetable to go in the broth. Regardless of our circumstances, we all face with making choices about pleasure. If I’m willing to be honest with myself, I must willing to be thoughtful and guided by my conscience, knowing that my choices do impact others whether I know it or not. Now that is a sobering thought!

2 Replies to “Pleasure Without Conscience”

  1. I am loving this series as I usually do your posts.  It’s amazing the things that you come up with to write about….keep up the good work enlightening me SIS!! 

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