This I Believe

Thomas - Menlo Park, California
Entered on October 21, 2005
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: death

I believe in ethics.

I believe that we learn a lot about how to live right through our experiences with death. When my dear maternal grandfather, Henry McCormick, was on his deathbed a few years ago, he asked me to do three things. One was to take care of my grandmother (his wife, Anna). The second was to pray. And the third was to always do the right thing. Taking care of others, prayer, and striving towards an ethical life is good advice for all of us.

This message has been repeated to me through the many deaths of loved ones and others I know. For example, my son’s young and vibrant fourth grade teacher, Miss Mazzei, recently and suddenly died when she was hit by a car a few weeks ago while she riding her bike. At her funeral and memorial service, it was clear that she was someone who worked hard to live an ethical life and that, in her memory, we should do the same. The school community responded to her death in a way that reinforced for me my belief in the goodness of others and their desire to do what is right. Take care of others, pray, and do the right thing.

I believe that regardless of one’s political, cultural, or religious traditions, working to create a more humane and just world using global ethics is perhaps the only way that we can ever hope to survive as a people. I believe that that if we look closely at all of the major religious traditions, at the core, we share the same ethical values. These are pretty simple and include values like: responsibility, respect, integrity, competence, and concern for others. Five simple words. Five straightforward values. We can even simply remember them by recalling the first letter of each word: R-R-I-C-C or RRICC.

I am a psychology professor at Santa Clara University and a psychologist in clinical practice. For several decades I have treated hundreds of people for a variety of personal problems and have taught ethics to thousands of students at the college, graduate, and professional level. At the end of the day, I tend to think that the challenges and problems that most people face can be greatly helped with a close attention to ethics and by following the advice of my grandfather’s death bed wish.

Reading about the shenanigans of politicians, Hollywood celebrities, star athletes, and even religious leaders in the daily news reports highlight to me the lack of ethical behavior and commitment in our world. Working with people in the intimate and confidential setting of psychotherapy also has demonstrated to me the many ethical challenges that people face can be better managed by my grandfather’s advice.

As my grandfather asked on his deathbed, take care of others, pray, and do the right thing. I believe he was right on. Perhaps these three principles are ultimately our only hope for both survival and the quality of living we all desire.