Our Moral Imperative

“Whatever you do in your life…infuse it with the humanity that [you were] born with… That responsibility is immense. But so is the opportunity… When you keep people at the center of what you do, it can impact… I’m…concerned about people thinking like computers without values or compassion or concern for the consequences… That is what we need you to help us guard against. Because if science is a search in the darkness, then the humanities are a candle that shows us where we have been and the danger that lies ahead.”

– Tim Cook

This was the message the Apple CEO passed on to the 2017 graduating class of MIT. In short, he enjoined the use of power to do good. Not just for one’s self, for money, possessions, social status or acclaim, but for – foremost – the good of others.

Don’t know about you, but I know (to my regret) I’ve often fallen short of that moral imperative. And it is moral. And an imperative. Every philosophy, every religion, teaches that. I’ve often not thought of the impact to others, only to my own possible gains, when I contemplated doing something. But I suppose that’s human nature – though it’s a lame, even if true, excuse – we’re basically pretty much selfish, self-centered creatures at heart. It’s the “I” thing (“I’m special, I’m important, I need, I want…”)

As proof of that, it’s not every day one hears about a truly altrusitc person, one who always puts others ahead of self. Like Mother Teresa, for example. We can’t all be like her or the others of her kind, but it is something to think about and – to the degree we are able to – emulate. Every one of us could try harder, don’t ya think?

And it’s welcome to hear Cook’s message to a school of engineers and scientists. Science often isn’t yoked with ethics or morality in its search of new inventions or applications. The humanities (as ethics, philosophy, religion, history and such are called) are at best elective courses offered in most schools today, and no longer required studies as they once were. Science – or anything else – absent an understanding and application of human values and with the goal of actually helping others, is worthless, Cook said.

It’s hard to argue with that, or the same about any other discipline, and all the great sages of old – even the venerable Yoda – taught that wisdom is the handmaiden to knowledge. And wisdom is knowing and doing the right thing.

Something to think about the next time you think about doing something. “I may have the legal authority or power or right, but is it morally the right thing to do? Is it ethical? Besides myself, will it help others as well? Could it – will it – hurt anyone?”

If the answer to that last question is “Probably, yes”, perhaps you should rethink before acting.

It isn’t all just about you, you know.

– Bill


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