Monday, December 03, 2007

Ethics, Honesty, and T-Shirts

Years of watching and interacting with people taught me that most of us are made up of certain basic character traits that stretch and bend but don't go away. For me the constants are my sense of honor and ethics and my belief that with enough effort I can make an impact on the world in a positive way.

One set of traits leads to another. For example, I tend to see the world through the prism of what is fair or unfair. This is tied in to my sense of honor and ethics. Fair is treating everyone equally. Unfair is having one set of standards for one person and another set for another. I've been known to leave friendships, relationships, mailing lists, discussion groups and communities when that standard has been upset in any way.

One real life example is a situation that occurred recently between two of my friends who are going through a divorce. A so-called neutral situation was set up in the home of a mutual friend where it was described as presenting a chance for both parties to vent and get their issues out and just be heard. Sounds good and fair, right? Wrong. One of them was able to select whatever friend they wanted to be their silent witness and she chose her friend who agreed completely with her on every issue. Her partner, on the other hand, was told he couldn't bring his choice because he was biased toward him. He was given a choice of people he could bring--all who had openly stated they were on "her" side.

When you take this kind of thinking a step further you can see how people in this country believe it is fair to attack another country for their oil, destroy their infrastructure, install a puppet regime, kill innocent people and then accuse other countries of being undemocratic and tyrannical. It's a mindset that grew from thousands of situations like my divorcing friends because nothing appears from the air. It has to grow from something and that something is usually a situation that is fair to one side and has different standards for the other.

My sense of honor is legendary among my friends and acquaintances. Even those who don't know me well know that if that gets messed with in any way, I'm no longer in their lives. I live my life the way I want others to live because if I didn't I'd have no right to criticize them when they live dishonorably. If I give my word that is unbreakable. It's my personal lie detector. If I give you my word, you know it's the truth because I couldn't live with myself if I went against it. In the same sense if someone doesn't have that standard then I can't trust them...ever. If they question my word I immediately know that their own means nothing and the relationship, no matter how small or large ends at that moment. In my mind and heart there is simply no point in going further with it. It's dead.

In the same vein, I look at this country and what has happened to its sense of honor. America was once seen as a country of honorable men and women who helped the poor, the hungry, the underdogs in their fights against the power hungry who would devour them for their weakness. Now it is seen as a country of liars, of greedy and unethical people who take what they want, trample over the weak and insignificant, and then hypocritically criticize others for doing the same thing.

Where did this start? How did we go from being a country most of the world admired and respected to one where people hate and disrespect most everything about it? From us, of course. When a structure rots it's usually from the inside out and we are the inside. We are the ones who easily took sides without questioning why someone wanted us to. It happened in countless situations like my divorcing friends where being fair didn't matter as much as winning. It happened when this country began deciding important issues with legal hair-splitting and expensive lawyers instead of a jury and community of their peers. We are no longer a country of people. We are a country of lawyers. We have sold our honor to those who could argue the best case against ethics and honesty and integrity. One of these days maybe we will remember that winning in a court of law is not necessarily the best result for a person or a country.

So there you have my sense of ethics, my sense of honor, my sense of fairness as a small part of a bigger whole. And in the end it does come down to why I sell t-shirts for a living. I want to change the world. That ingrained sense of idealistic fervor is as much a part of me as that sense of honor, ethics and fairness. In fact, you can't separate any of it from me anymore than you can separate me from Nature, from life, from my relationships with other people.

But I am also a realist. I know that I as one person am limited in my power to create the world I want to live in, the world I want to pass on to future generations. But I also know I have this talent, this ability, this stubborn streak that allows me to put what I believe on a t-shirt and sell it all over the world. When I make a design that educates people on the danger of Global Warming, of Overpopulation, of the destructive results of war and hate and then sell it to other people I am planting seeds to create my perfect world. Everyone who sees that shirt sees my message. They talk to the person wearing it. They learn something. They share it. They spread it around. They buy their own shirt and continue the process.

And by doing all this they enable me to both live ethically and honestly also feel as if I am doing something to create my ideal world. I work for myself, my ideals and my dreams. No one owns me or my thoughts. And because of this I am free to think and speak and believe as I am instead of how someone else wants me to be. That to me is true freedom and if I can spread that message around the world with my art and my words then I have not wasted my time on this planet and will leave it a better place than I found it.

Raccoon Christmas card available at My holiday store


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