Mark Matousek is the author of two bestselling memoirs and a contributing editor to O: The Oprah Magazine. In this ambitious and erudite book he looks at the evidence proving that the human brain is hard-wired for us to be good. We are born with a "moral organ" that allows us to make ethical choices. This faculty has five primary foundations:
• We are concerned with harm and care which comes across in the discomfort we feel in seeing or feeling the pain of others. Here we also find kindness, nurturing, and empathy.
• We are also devoted to justice and fairness in a world of greed, poverty, revenge, and human rights violations.
• Loyalty is a virtue in our personal relationships but group loyalty can lead to the excesses of patriotism, conflict, war, and aggression.
• We swing between the separate poles of authority and respect. Sometimes we capitulate to one, and then we reverse our position and cling to the other.
• We have a yearning for purity and sacredness which has both positive and negative consequences.
In sum, we are, according to Matousek, ethical creatures in the making as we evolve and mature. Although compassion is our natural inclination, we have to fight our selfish and separating feelings every day.
One of the best things about this book that mixes philosophy, psychology, science, and spirituality is the emphasis given to various emotions. It is a real challenge to educators and others to address emotional issues in our left-brained culture that embraces control, progress, status, and independence. Matousek does a fine job shedding light on emotional intelligence, envy, grudges, the mother’s gaze, altruism, us versus them, and the passions.
The future of humanity might just revolve around our collective response to the question of whether our loyalty lies with the human family or with our individual pack. The author calls this the ethical koan of modern life. Also fascinating is Matoursek’s exploration of the mirror neurons in the brain that enable us to mimic and empathize with others. He maintains that they are the major reasons why emotions are contagious.
Ethical Wisdom helps us see the continuing benefits of the interface science and spirituality.