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Hugh Mackay on Ethics

While we are grateful the boomers broke away from the moral exactitude of previous generations, the ambiguity it created has left many of us feeling uneasy and confused about who we are and where we stand. We don’t want to return to the strictures of the past, but how can we deal effectively with the many moral dilemmas we face? Are there times when it’s appropriate to lie? How do we determine right conduct in a workplace obsessed with the bottom line? Can we reconcile personal ambitions with public responsibility? What do we mean by the pursuit of happiness?

‘How can we deal effectively with the many moral dilemmas we face?’ asks Hugh Mackay. ‘Obedience doesn’t enhance moral responsibility - it simply promotes a reward/punishment mentality. Moral absolutism is no answer either, because if we want to take a more intelligent approach to morality, we can’t fall back on stock responses. We can start making more conscious decisions about our moment by moment choices as they arise, so we are more likely to make morally sensitive decisions. There are times in contemporary life when we all feel adrift and alone, but ultimately this is an illusion - we are actually more like the strands of a vast evolving web.’

‘We appear to be on the cusp of another gentle cultural revolution. I’ve not been studying social trends at a more interesting time,’ he reflects. How then can we make sense of what is happening, and frame solutions that work for ourselves and others - that bring greater peace of mind? For Hugh social cohesion and moral clarity are inextricably linked, because our moral sense is shaped by our realisation that our actions do impact on others.

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