Sunday, May 2, 2010

Learning to act right (8)…. Taking an ethics course

Learning to act right (8)…. Taking an ethics course
Torrey Orton
May 2, 2010
When I first got hold of ethical learning as an objective for my productive desires, I talked to various people about it. The following came back unsolicited, arising spontaneously as a gift to the very bare cupboard of offerings I had in hand. He said:
Hi, Torrey.
This took longer than expected.
I spent a week reflecting on it after we had dinner.
Perhaps part of the elusive nature of pinpointing such experiences is that they become part of who we are and how we see the world. They are under the skin, so to speak.
Thanks for the work.

At the time I replied:
Thanks for this …your contribution is an important addition to my sense of what this project should / could be

There followed a break of a few weeks, and here it is.
My most influential ethical learning took place in The Melbourne School of Philosophy, which I attended one evening per week from the age of 19 to 22.
In the school's own words: "The School began in London in 1936 when a small group of people came together to study economics, seeking an understanding of the universal laws that govern the relations between people in society. They hoped to discover principles that would help to eliminate the social ills prevailing at that time."
The School of Philosophy presented teachings from various religions and philosophies: the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Buddhism, Plato, Socrates, Spinoza, the economist/philosopher Henry George and many others.
You might expect such a school to be New Age, but it was quite the opposite. If anything, it was relatively conservative, both in politics and social conventions. The male teachers invariably wore suits, the women dresses, and I never once heard anyone say "Yeah, man."
What was most effective about the school was its motto of "testing the teachings in the light of one's own experience". The lecturers presented the various teachings in class, and asked students to experiment with them in real life during the week.
The following week, the same group of students would discuss their experiences, saying how they had put the teachings into practice and what the result had been. Then the next set of teachings would be presented.
Also, upon leaving each class, students were given a card with between five and ten quotations summarising that week's principles. These quotations might be from any of the sources mentioned in the second paragraph, as well as Mozart, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Yeats and other influential thinkers and doers.
The practical focus of the school made the teachings very real and applicable. Hearing the various stories from the week was illustrative, highly entertaining, moving and sometimes hilarious. You would hear anecdotes from lawyers, motor mechanics, actors, dentists, bike couriers, fashion photographers, university economics lecturers, entrepreneurs and boxers, all on topics like "Experiencing deeper levels of being through stillness," or "The nature of justice and injustice. Transcending fear."
We were also given some small exercises to heighten awareness and presence, such as pausing between activities during the week to reconnect with the senses and observe the workings of the mind. These short exercises were connected with the various material presented in class.
I finally left when I started to feel that the school expected an increasing level of "belief", as opposed to their introductory stance of not accepting the teachings as doctrine. This was the school's biggest shortcoming.
Nevertheless, I would still say that attending the school was a positive experience which taught me a lot about myself and my interactions with the world.

By Scott Wallace March 2, 2010

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