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ethics of office politics

office politics 3In general, there are no ethical office politics.

There are times when one’s supervisor will state that certain things must be done to satisfy the supervisor’s powers that be – like staying within a budget, or not sharing information with another department. These ‘edicts’ help one’s supervisor navigate his/her own politics. If you will forgive the word play, it is politic to take these orders seriously. In these situations, it is not a question of ethics, it’s a question of survival – you will not have a job long if you develop a reputation for not following orders.

However, what happens if your supervisor is doing something unethical – and/or asking you to do the same? This is a true moral dilemma, and unfortunately one which occurs all too often. Most people will comply out of fear of losing their jobs. Only a person with a strong moral spine will dare fight the situation. That person could go over his/her supervisor’s head and report the person. This, to be frank, is corporate suicide.  And it’s usually unnecessary – you would be surprised at how much the Powers That Be know what is going on.

A different approach might be to explain to the supervisor that you find it difficult to do this because you feel it is a wrong move. Some managers will relent and find another way to handle the situation. Others will insist it’s alright to do the act since they sanction it. Survival says do it; if you don’t you will likely lose your job and not get a recommendation. Sometimes they will even offer a good recommendation to keep you silent. No matter what you decide to do, document the conversation and date it as soon as you have the opportunity. And keep that documentation at home, not in your office. Anything in the office is open to others looking for it – the documentation is not even safe in a locked drawer. This is not to be done as ‘ammunition’ or ‘insurance’; its purpose is simply for your own defense in case the situation escalates. This is also a good practice if there is a lot of dicey things occurring around you. When there is an internal review of office problems, this is acceptable evidence.office politics 1

If you leave your position – by choice or not – do not discuss why with anyone, especially prospective employers. Come up with a better reason for leaving, such as wanting room for professional development.

But office politics goes way beyond these supervisor-related situations, into situations between co-workers, and this creates a seriously toxic environment . The sole purpose of this type of office politics is  to undermine others in an effort to aggrandize oneself.

Employees gossip among themselves, painting their co-workers as rude, mean, dirty, unfaithful, untrustworthy – just about any kind of insult that can be applied to a person’s character. This is to engender the feeling that the gossiper is the only one the listener can trust.

Employees run to the manager complaining about co-workers, like little children whining that baby sister hit them. This is an effort to demean the co-worker, obviously, and is usually considered bothersome to managers.

Some employees steal another’s work or ideas and present it as their own. This is done by people who don’t believe they have any worth of their own.

office politics 2However you look at it, office politics put work on an emotional and personal level. An individual is trying to manipulate others in an effort to make the individual look better. This is an individual who doesn’t think hard work is the avenue to promotion or job security. This person is threatened by anyone who appears to be better at doing the job or by anyone who appears to have ambitions for the person’s job. This is an individual who expends more energy trying to ‘beat the system’ than doing the work assigned.

Obviously, if this individual is you, you are not going to change – it’s worked so far, right? However, if you are the victim of this kind of action, it is frustrating trying to figure out how to protect yourself without falling into the tattling well. The first step of course is to document all the actions. Keep that diary. At some time you will reach a breaking point, at which time you can seek a confidential conference with your supervisor, for an opportunity to “vent” (and state it as that).  The diary is the number one “CYA” practice you can maintain.

When you have a good idea, don’t fly it past co-workers – or even your supervisor if s/he has a history of passing off your work as his/her own. Instead, package it in a good presentation and offer it to the next higher level (your supervisor or his/her supervisor) as a suggestion.

Sadly, it’s easy to get caught up in office politics without realizing it, just from chatting with a co-worker and tending to trust the person as a mentor, which is often the image s/he projects. And once embroiled in it, it is often impossible to disentangle yourself and come out unscathed. Even if you are someone who just wants to do your job, you will get scars.

This is why office politics are wholly unethical – they do not increase productivity; they stifle honest workers; they are an effort to cheat one’s way through business. The fact that the majority of workers in America feel justified in acting like this is reprehensible. But it’s not surprising, when you consider that corporate heads and politicians around the world set the example.

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Teach thinking skills in high school

thinkingIn my college freshman philosophy class, the instructor asked the students to prove to him that God exists. Many regurgitations of childhood “proofs” were given, and by the end of the hour there “was” a shrunken man with long whiskers squatting on the corner of his desk. The students became frustrated and tuned out the entire remainder of the course. They felt their ideas were being summarily dismissed. For the final exam, students were allowed to choose either an objective (Q&A) test or a subjective exam. Only two of us, out of a couple of hundred, opted for the subjective exam.

In my senior year, I gave a speech to a class with many of the same students. I explained that this instructor was trying to get the students to think on their own and failed. A lot of students came up to me after that speech and said it was true; many of them were engineering students, comfortable only with hard facts.

This experience is symptomatic of what happens when a student graduates high school with no training on how to think independently, much less critically.

In elementary school, there is a lot to learn by rote – basic math, reading, geography and writing. In many school systems, creativity is encouraged through arts, music and writing. But independent thinking is discouraged – this is considered the time to teach students conformity and obedience.

During middle school, while making the transition from child to teen, the student should also be making the transition from puppet to thinker. Math courses should go from basic arithmetic to solving word problems, learning to apply analysis to a situation in order to figure out how to solve it. History should not just be a list of names and dates; students should get involved in why a date is important and what caused an historical event. Science courses should emphasize the derivatives of discoveries.

Once in high school, the students who have not been taught the above-mentioned thinking skills are at a great disadvantage. Without being able to trust their own ability to derive answers, students will have serious difficulty with such subjects as geometry and physics. Understanding the cause of phenomena will make it easier for a student to remember an event, and allow the student to apply the same process across the curriculum.

Unfortunately, high schools concentrate on echoing facts in an effort to keep their own ratings and assist students with Regents tests, ACT tests and SAT scores. These tests have come under the gun for being biased and subjective, for good reason. It is very possible to prepare for these tests without ever learning how to think.

For those students planning to go on to college, college admissions try to balance the fact-regurgitation with such criteria as school club membership, sports and essays. None of this discerns a thinker from a fact hound. Many “A students” in high school flunk out of college because they never learned how to study or to think critically. All the colleges can do is guess which applicant has the best chance of succeeding in higher education. Once the student is enrolled in a college, the one who will succeed is the one who has the ability to apply critical thinking to all subject matter.

I am reminded of an incident in my own college career. My sociology instructor did not seem to be interested in his profession. I found his recitation boring and not very logical. Yet all I could get is a C on his tests. I decided I could get a C without attending the class. One day in the cafeteria I found myself behind this instructor in line. He recognized me and asked why I had not been in class. I told him I didn’t agree with his theories and theorists, but could repeat them well enough to pass the course. He made a deal – attend class; on tests, I was free to disagree as long as I could back it up. Deal made, I got an A in the course.

College professors relish students who can think critically and will foster the practice if they can. Unfortunately, often when an instructor endeavors to encourage critical thinking, lazy or threatened students will balk and even rebel. Students have been known to report an instructor as unwilling to teach if the instructor shows the student how to approach a question rather than handing the answer to the student. Even on a baccalaureate level, the increased requirements of theses and research have been a small hurdle to the student with thinking skills.

For students not planning to go to college, critical thinking is possibly even more essential, since they will not have the advantage of college professors. In this electronic age, a person needs to be able to discern false information over true, and identify scams immediately. Every career will be enhanced by being able to think “beyond the box”, whether it be construction, office work or marketing. People need to be able to evaluate life choices reasonably in order to enhance their own well-being. This can only be achieved by clear thinking.

I was blessed to attend a public high school with a lot of bright students; the administration was very proactive in developing curricula that would encourage creative and critical thinking from seventh grade on. This can apply to all subject matter. Consider understanding odds in calculus or applying trigonometry to professional quandaries. There is a famous saying which goes “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana). But even if one remembers the past – if one does not understand why events in the past have occurred, the history will still be repeated. Research in any of the sciences, hard or soft, requires a person to reach an hypothesis which is original and determine a method to prove or disprove it. Even in graphic arts, copying an artist’s style is of no value – the artist needs to be able to look beyond the extant views to achieve originality. Any great author has to go beyond the expository to achieve recognition.

Certainly having parents who encourage decision-making and free thinking are a blessing as well, but too many of the current generation of parents have not had this training advantage, so it needs to be available on the high school level. Perhaps these students can teach their parents.

personal and police ethics

One should never need to sacrifice the ethics of a professional code for one’s personal ethics, nor the other way around. This white paper is a review of a personal code of ethics and how it compares to the code of ethics for a police officer.female police

As we grow up, hopefully our parents and teachers instill within us a code of ethics. If you cheat at a test, you will be punished. Don’t hit your baby sister. This is also approached by religions to cover, supposedly, all possible values necessary to be a “good” human being.

As an adult, the personal code of ethics is basically the Ten Commandments, with an appendix on ecological issues, a push for nondiscrimination, and a dash of do-no-harm. With such a general code, each instance of ethical decision needs to be weighed and decided as it occurs. And there is the possibility of not even realizing that a situation in which one finds oneself is in reality an ethical dilemma.

It’s been said that United States police have the highest level of ethics by profession. A police officer, is constantly facing ethical questions. Obviously, s/he would want to be honest and therefore want to engender honesty in the people for and with whom s/he will be working.

The police officer interacts constantly with the community and the government in an effort to not only enforce the laws, but also to help out both groups of people in small and large ways. Therefore the police officer needs to have more than a passing knowledge of all ethical standards governing his or her city, including codes of conduct (for police, government and citizens), gifts and hospitality, planning and licensing codes, the protocols for government/officer relations, and issuances from the Standards Board. This not only helps the officer know where the boundaries are which s/he must enforce, but also what the boundaries are for his or her own actions.

It is difficult to compare one’s personal ethical code to the police professional conduct code because this changes (if it is even documented) in each district. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police,

“Simply stated, the law enforcement profession does not have a concise, powerful and universal process by which officers are able to periodically reaffirm their ethical values and beliefs. Of course, we all take an individual oath of office, and some of us also take an oath derived from the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, but neither of these processes lend themselves to continuous and convenient application in public and professional settings. The Oath of Honor fills that void, provides the profession with a tool that is easily institutionalized, understood and remembered. Summarizing our values in a simple statement, it lends itself to tasteful and appropriate administration in a wide spectrum of settings.”

The personal code of ethics is more far-reaching than the average professional code, since the person not only wants to be sure to follow and enforce the laws, but s/he would want to rebuild the bond between a police officer and his or her beat. This means going further in building relationships with the citizenry on the beat, and knowing more about the government structure to be able to advise the citizens when they need help beyond what the officer can do in his capacity.

The unwritten code for a police officer has greatly to do with image – good appearance, polite language even in the face of anger, and no drinking on duty, for instance. There also must be careful language usage in the face of legal issues further down the road, such as ensuring that the Miranda is read and understood, and avoiding any derogatory remarks that could throw the officer’s testimony out of court.

male policePolice officers must work closely with the District Attorney’s office to ensure that an arrest will lead to prosecution. Even in simple cases such as a speeding ticket, the officer must be sure that he acts ethically and completely within the law. This is not simply a matter of proper procedures; the officer must always follow an ethical path, which includes avoiding such acts as planting evidence or lying to cover another officer. The personal code of ethics demands that when he is alone (with or without a suspect) he act exactly as he would if the Chief of Police was watching.

Personal ethics would have a hard time with one of the unwritten codes for police officers. Because the image of the police is very important, and officers constantly face dangerous situations, if an officer makes a mistake, he and fellow officers often cover up the mistake. An ethical officer would have to report such actions to his superior officer and hope that he doesn’t get embroiled with Internal Affairs. In a corrupt district, this can have devastating repercussions, possibly costing him his job or forcing a transfer.

Personal ethics help resolve dilemmas because not all things are black and white – there is a sliding scale of values. When an ethical dilemma arises it is usually because both – or neither – outcome seems to be as good or bad as the other. So one needs to prioritize the choices to determine which path to follow. For instance, human beings are more important than animals.

Recently a woman’s pet ape, which she’d reared since infancy until he was like a child, attacked and killed the woman’s best friend. Killing the ape would not be a matter of revenge but rather prevention, so that this wild animal would no longer be viewed as domestic and thereby be given the opportunity to harm another human. On the other hand, the victim’s family then sued the woman for a huge amount of money. This is ridiculous; not only did this woman lose her best friend at the hands of a “family member”, but she also lost a pet that she’d had for many years which was as close to her as a son. She is already suffering in a way that will probably never heal. To sue for money on top of this is simple greed. The questionable ethics in this situation belong to the victim’s family.

There is a constant battle between civil courts and legal courts. The most glaring example of this is when a person such as OJ Simpson is cleared of wrong doing legally, yet loses everything he owns in a wrongful death suit.

Another example may be found in politics. What if your brother was running for the senate seat in your state, but you didn’t agree with his plans for when he got in office? At the same time, you had been following the record and aspirations of your brother’s opponent, and felt that that person would be a much better senator. Despite love and loyalty to family, you should vote for the opponent. That’s the beauty of the privacy of the voting booth. Since a senate seat allows a lot of power to further the hopes of the state and the nation, it is more important to elect someone who will help the country rather than one’s brother.

 

The basic framework of the personal ethical code is:

  • Obey all laws, of the country as well as of one’s religion.
  • If you want it you must earn it.
  • Protect and support country over town, family over stranger, humanity over all other life forms.
  • Spread love and compassion by example.
  • Tolerate all differences as simply being different rather than good or bad
  • Use whatever talents and powers you may have to the betterment of mankind and the earth.

Morality, business and politics

In this c. 1772 portrait by John Singleton Copley, Adams points at the Massachusetts Charter, which he viewed as a constitution that protected the peoples' rights.

In this c. 1772 portrait by John Singleton Copley, Adams points at the Massachusetts Charter, which he viewed as a constitution that protected the peoples’ rights.

He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard for his country. There is seldom an instance of a man guilty of betraying his country, who had not before lost the feeling of moral obligations in his private connections. — Samuel Adams (1722-1803) US patriot

The people of America are polarizing over the subject of National Football League players being chastised for immoral behavior off the field. Some think this should not be an issue for the NFL to handle – leave it to the courts. Others are outraged, apparently never before having seen abuse in action. Then there is the argument that we should/should not hold professional athletes up as role models. Add the question of when and how and to what extent the organization should react.
The problem goes so much deeper. If a politician who has done a great deal of good for his state or country transgresses in sexual matters, his career is finished. Businesses check out a prospective employee’s credit record to determine if he or she should be hired. Outstanding athletes in colleges are courted, bribed, and allowed to slide by on academics.
Let’s make a decision, America – do we think that a person’s moral practices (or immoral practices) are a reflection of the school, business or organization with which he or she is affiliated or not?
And when we have made that decision , then we should apply it across the board, no matter what the individual’s occupation might be. To do otherwise is sheer hypocrisy.
This isn’t a question of separating church and state, which most people apply at their own convenience. This is a question of whether or not we want to be a moral society. If so, we need to determine how we want to react to moral infringements.
With an impoverished economy, big business has the power. It’s a buyer’s market for corporations, to offer what little they need to and demand as much as they want as people struggle to get jobs that will allow them to live. The House of Representatives and the Senate offer such juicy retirement packages that a smart politician can run for a couple of terms then step down to cater to big business on the side. Professional sports are something that most people can still afford, whereas the arts are dwindling down to nonexistence. The NFL is no different from McDonalds – it is a profitable network of franchises.
So let’s look at the government, professional sports and corporations as being one and the same. Whether it’s customer service for Comcast, a man in the presidency, or a football player beating on his girlfriend, they all represent their organization as well as themselves; they all have contact with the public, and they all should be moral as well as efficient.
The public has long been over-tolerant of professional athletes because they bring much-needed relief from everyday troubles. The public also tends to separate “minor” indiscretions from major crimes. But what is considered “minor” for an athlete is considered major when a politician is involved. Politicians don’t even have to be violent – they only have to be horny. On the other hand, corporate brass can get away with all kinds of sins, as long as they aren’t caught, including lying to the public or their stockholders. Circumventing laws and paying off politicians are par for the course. Yet this same brass will insist on drug tests for prospective employees, background checks and even credit checks.
We as a people must decide what we are willing to tolerate and what we are not. Then we need to apply those values to everyone, regardless of the individuals’ position or entertainment value.
Now to put some bullets in the gun. It would be insane to legislate every little misdeed. Nor can we legislate what penalties business, athletics and government should mete out. This needs to be a grass roots movement. With the smart phones and computers in every home and hand, communication has become a part of everyday life. Let’s use it for more than entertainment. We need protected whistleblowers in every corner of our society. But exposure must be verified – another good use of those smart phones. Whenever the police overstep their bounds, whenever a politician acts immorally, whenever a corporation puts profit over people, whenever an athlete defiles another person, the proof should be verified then broadcast, just as advertising is, in e-mail and a central Web site.
Once the information is out, the public must boycott, cry out, and use their voting power to penalize the miscreants. Even atheists have ethics and moral values. Let’s stand up as a moral country to require all those people who represent our government, business and sports to be proper role models in personal life as well as public.

Fallacies lead to incorrect conclusions

maze - headWhen engaging in a debate, topical argument or even a friendly discussion, one side may often accuse the other of a lie, untruth or error of fact. While this may be the case, it might just be a fallacy, which appears to be true but instinctually the person knows it is not.

A fallacy is an error in logic rather than truth. Most fallacies can be broken down to an algebraic syllogism. Fallacies have been studied by many people, especially for the development of critical thinking. There are over forty named fallacies, most with Latin names as well as the English. It should be remembered that in some circumstances, a fallacy-based method of reasoning may in fact reach a true conclusion. There is even an Internet site which lists famous quotes which contain fallacies.

Lawyers use fallacies to push witnesses and juries to the wrong conclusion (and hopefully the opposition objects). Lawyers also use fallacies to persuade a person or company in a particular direction. They don’t always define the fallacy, even to themselves, but rather know what to say to change or create a point of view. It is up to the client to see through such “logic”.

A second common source for fallacies is advertising, again in an effort to persuade citizens to purchase their products. For instance, (and these are fictitious), Brushalot might claim that 3 out of 4 dentists recommend their toothpaste, while Dropatooth claims that 80% of dentists recommend their brand. Obviously, both claims cannot be true. But if one listens carefully, there may be a caveat such as “of dentists polled”. Another example is when a cosmetic or over-the-counter drug advertises that there were clinical trials. Unfortunately, if investigated,  it often turns out that there was only one clinical trial – of three people.

Perhaps the biggest faulty citation is from the Internet. People will state that they know something is right or real because they read it on the Internet. Since there is no way to regulate the Internet, such sources are more often than not biased, if not completely untrue. Newspapers are under the same scrutiny, but tend to be more careful to check the facts, and are better regulated. Unless they are tabloids.

Some of the more common fallacies can be grouped by the type of logic error involved. The ad Hominem (against a person) set covers arguments against the person making the statement. The most common one is to denigrate the speaker – “You can’t judge a beautiful painting because you are ugly”; “You can’t speak on politics since you are not a lawyer” ; “A Christian should not comment on Jewish folklore”. Also in this category is the you-too fallacy, where the speaker’s statement is dismissed because it is inconsistent with the speaker’s previous statements or actions. For instance, claiming that a convicted murderer cannot voice an opinion against homicide, or even an athlete who was drummed out of the corps for drug use becoming a sports commentator.. A circumstantial ad Hominem is when the speaker’s claim is dismissed because the claim in in one’s self-interest. To tell someone he should give you his 1965 Mustang because you, as a younger, unmarried person who would look better in it and make better use of it, would be a fallacy. To suggest that he sell it to you for a fair price, for the same reasons, would not be a fallacy. Guilt by association is probably a better-known fallacy along this line. In this situation the speaker’s claim is dismissed because the speaker hangs out with people the arguer dislikes. Last in this category is the fallacy that two wrongs make a right – the claimer states his right to do an immoral act because the receiver of the act would have done the same thing: “It’s okay that I slept with her husband; she would do the same with my husband, given the chance.”

The next set of fallacies are the “appeal to…” set.maze cutting

The bandwagon is the attempt to sway a person’s stance by way of threatening a loss of acceptance by the person’s peers if she does not change her stance. An appeal to tradition claims that something is better simply because it’s older. If the quill pen was good enough for Ben Franklin, it’s good enough for me. This is the logic practiced by someone who foregoes PDAs and computers in favor of paper calendars and notebooks. Often this reasoning is used because of a deep-rooted fear of change, which even the greatest risk-takers should recognize in one form or another. The reverse is an appeal to novelty, reasoning that anything new is superior to older things. With this logic, AIDS would be a preferred illness over the common cold. In the appeal to pity, a person claims that he is speaking the truth because he is suffering. Just because you are a paraplegic does not mean George Washington was a Martian. In the appeal to popularity, a person claims that something is true because it is a popular belief. Sometimes this is true, but there is no guarantee that something is true just because a lot of people think so. The majority is not always right – and rarely silent. Related to that is the appeal to common practice, used often by children with their parents. Parents recognize this fallacy easily and respond, “If the entire seventh grade jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” However, in adult situations, this is not always so easy to spot.

The appeal to ridicule (or mockery) is an attempt to dismiss an argument by making fun of it. In the appeal to flattery, the arguer tries to make his opponent feel good about himself rather than offer a true argument. “A woman as beautiful as you couldn’t possibly believe I would do anything to harm her.” Well known is the appeal to fear. Instead of offering reasons, the arguer offers a set of dire results if you do not side with him. For instance, if you turn down a date with the boss’s daughter, you might lose your job. The appeal to emotion is another popular one, especially in politics. The politician will “wrap himself in the flag” and use a spate of patriotic terms; if you don’t vote for him, it is tantamount to treason. This type of appeal is tantamount in Facebook when it relates to military, politics, religion or compassion.  How often do you see the challenge that if you don’t share a post then you are not compassionate. In the appeal to consequences of a belief, the argument or reasoning is that if one believes in something (or does not) the consequences will be good or bad;  recognizing true consequences is acceptable, but to deem something true because it has good consequences is bad logic.

maze questionThe last set of fallacies to be covered here are procedural. Rather than attacking the person, or appealing to something other than fact, procedural fallacies have to do with how an argument is structured. Begging the question is more commonly called circular reasoning. This is where the premises of the argument include the claim that the conclusion is true. I have many friends because I am so popular.

In the biased sample fallacy, the evidence used to back up an argument is prejudicially selected to support the argument. This is most common when using the Internet for proof of an argument. If a person only reads information on right-wing sites, and gets newsletters in e-mail from right-wing organizations, he is only going to have a right-wing set of arguments. Samples need to be balanced out one of three ways – over a significant span of time, from a balanced representation of all sides, or a sample large enough to be a true representation of all things involved and affected. This is one of the most compelling arguments for banning communications monopolies

A red herring is also known as a smoke screen or a wild goose chase and is a well-known tactic. Basically it means to toss in arguments which have no bearing on the issue at hand in an effort to distract the people involved.

Last but not least is the slippery slope. This is an argument which compounds results upon results, none of which are substantiated, until the arguer ends up way out in left field. For example, if you note for Joe Schmoe the first thing he will do is end social security; companies will follow suit and cancel pensions; without social security, medical insurance will disappear; your parents will die; and so on.

“Fallacy” may sound like a fancy word, but by being familiar with the concepts of fallacies, one can more easily judge arguments presented to him as well as more effectively argue back.

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The Heritage of the Essenes

essenesIn 1946, the origin of the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls was attributed the authorship of the Essenes, a term has become known around the world as an old and secretive religious brotherhood. However, it is usually assumed to be an ancient group only. In actuality, the sect is still in existence. The Dead Sea Scrolls are commonly considered part of the Essene library, but the actual authorship is not defined. Either the Essenes wrote these documents, which include several copies of parts of the Hebrew Bible, or they were simply the keepers of the same.

The sect is recorded as early as the second century BCE, the term actually encompassing several small sects gathering in cities and communes throughout Roman Judea and embracing asceticism, immersion and poverty. Some people say they were seceded from the Zadokite priests. The Essenes, sharing mystic, eschatological, messianic and ascetic beliefs, were the smallest of three major religious groups of the time; the other two groups were the Pharisees, the political and social leaders,  and the Sadducees, the keepers of the temple.

Josephus (The Jewish War , c. 75 CE) claimed first-hand knowledge of the Essenes. He explained their devotion to piety, celibacy, poverty and strict adherence to Jewish law. They practiced a ritual immersion in water every morning, ate together after prayer, eschewed anger, devoted themselves to charity and benevolence, studied the books of the elders, preserved secrets, and knew the names of all the angels in their sacred writings.

Ancient Essene communes usually did not include women, and their daily lives were regulated by officials. They believed in immortality and divine punishment for sins, like the Pharisees, but denied the resurrection of the body and shunned Temple worship. Membership to the sect followed strict rules, rites and privileges.

The Essenes did not consider themselves aligned with any one religion, but rather a separate people, distinguished by the illumination of their inner life and their knowledge of hidden mysteries of nature. This sense of universality and secrets is akin to the Druids and Masonic orders. Membership was open to anyone who met the selective tests and pledged himself to a mission of the triumph of light over darkness of the human mind.

As a brotherhood of holy men and women, the Essenes were often persecuted or ostracized. Nonetheless, they were open to all religions and beliefs that would enlighten mankind. They considered themselves true saints, masters of wisdom, and hierophants (chief priests of Eleusinian mysteries) of the ancient arts of Mastery. Among the notables claimed to be Essenes were St. Ann, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Moses and even Jesus. Perhaps this is why these people were unabashed in claiming they were beyond normal humanity.

Essenes studied all religions, to extract the great scientific principles involved. They considered each religion a different stage of a single and ultimate revelation. They revered Chaldeans, Zoroaster, Hermes Trismefiste, Enoch and Moses, and believed they could communicate with angelic beings. Essenes believed that they had solved the question of the origin of evil on earth.

To maintain their purity of soul, for the afterlife, the sect expended a great deal of energy avoiding contact with evil spirits. This position held them adamant in their stances, which often led to persecution or ostracizing. They were the guardians of the Divine Teaching, which is why they maintained a library of manuscripts ancient even to them. They spent a great deal of time decoding the manuscripts, translating them and reproducing them.

“The Essenes considered their Brotherhood-Sisterhood as the presence on earth of the Teaching of the sons and daughters of God. They were the light which shines in the darkness and which invites the darkness to change itself into light. Thus, for them, when a candidate asked to be admitted to their School, it meant that, within him, a whole process of awakening of the soul was set in motion. Such a soul was ready to climb the stairs of the sacred temple of humanity. The Essenes differentiated between the souls which were sleeping, drowsy, and awakened. Their task was to help, to comfort, and to relieve the sleeping souls, to try to awaken the drowsy souls, and to welcome and guide the awakened souls. Only the souls considered as awakened could be initiated into the mysteries of the Brotherhood-Sisterhood. Then began for them a path of evolution that could not stop anymore through the cycle of their incarnations.”

The Essene brothers and sisters wore white, to symbolize purity of soul. They were usually barefoot, to stay in contact with the ground. The Hebrews referred to them as “The School of Prophets”; in Egypt they were referred to as “The Healers” or “The Doctors”. They were property holders in most big cities, and even had a door in Jerusalem called the “door of the Essenes”. In general they were respected as healing, honest, peace-loving, discrete, and the source of the greatest Hebrew prophets. They maintained places of teaching, healing and lodging, with doors open to anyone who sought them out. Different members maintained different missions, all following the laws of reincarnation (evolution and mercy) and the laws of destiny (cause and effect).

When an individual asked to be admitted to the order, he or she was initiated with an extensive examination and evaluation of his/her life to date. While this sounds ominously like the “brainwashing” of modern cults, the initiation phase was apparently successful when one considers the alumni of the Essenes. Perhaps this is an explanation of what Jesus was doing between the ages of twelve and 33. Once initiated, the Brother or Sister was given the robe, staff and mission. The Brother or Sister would give an oath to fulfill this mission while constantly purifying him/herself to stay worthy of the mission.

Each Essene was pledged to follow the Essene principles and rules of life. Each Brother or Sister (Master) expected to bring further wisdom to the world, upon which future Masters would build.

Each Master was required to respect the privacy of others. Solitude, the couple, and the community are the three lives of an individual and the Masters were expected to respect their own three lives as well as those of others. The law of silence and discernment forbade revealing the Teaching to non-initiates; therefore, Essenes do not try to convert another person to any belief. They practiced universal hospitality, nondiscriminatory humanitarian acts and equality of the sexes. The School condemned all forms of servility and slavery.

For in-depth explanations of the value of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and of Jesus as an Essene, please see Mary, the Essene Virgin: The Birth of the Master Jesus, Jesus and the Essenes  , and Essene Prayer Said by the Virgin Mary.

Evidence of the continuation of the Essene movement can be found in the writings of church father Epiphanius in the fourth century CE. He described the Essenes as having separated into two distinct groups. The Ossaeans were reportedly those Essens who lived before him. Jews by nationality, this brotherhood did not recognize Moses as a Master. Epiphanius identified the other, main group, as the Nazareans. Also Jewish, they came from a more select geographical area and kept all Jewish observances. They believed Moses had received laws from a source other than the Essenes.

There are contradictory interpretations of ancient manuscripts about the Essenes, probably due to their secretive practices. They have been associated with southwestern India DNA (Nazarean families of India), and Kabbalah. But between the fourth century and 1946, there appear to be no records of the existence of this brotherhood.

After the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, new Essene churches and movements have arisen – or perhaps have come out of hiding? Around the beginning of the twentieth century, Grace Mann Brown instituted the Order of the Essenes, and Rosicrucianism embraced Essene beliefs. As recently as 1981, David Asia Israel created the Order of the Nazoreans Essenes, incorporating religious thought and practices from Nazarean, Gnostic Christian, Buddhist and Manichaean sources. The Essene Spirit was founded by Olivier Manitara in Quebec. Several new Essene movements and churches can be found throughout the United States.

While this could be an emergence of secretly maintained brotherhoods hidden for twenty centuries, it is more probable that such a non-sectarian belief system is appealing in a world where few religions are accepted on blind faith. Humankind still needs a system to offer hope and guidance. A year-long training period based on the archangels Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel and Michael allows the initiate to test whether he or she is strong enough to follow the way of life involved. Many practices can now be searched out on the Internet, as these movements become solidified.

Logic versus critical thinking

We must not limit ourselves to functioning like a circuit board.

We must not limit ourselves to functioning like a circuit board.

What is the “bridge” between critical thinking and logic? One of the ways to explore this question is to demonstrate where logic and critical thinking fall in terms of cognitive development. Let’s take a brief look at Jean Piaget’s stages of cognitive development.

 

Stages of cognitive development:

  1. SENSORIMOTOR STAGE: Birth to age 2 (approximately). The child begins with no thinking structures (called schema) and starts to develop them through exploration of his/her senses and experimentation on his/her environment. Much cognitive development occurs but the child is incapable of logical thought.
  2. PREOPERATIONAL STAGE: Ages 2 to 7 years old (approximately). The child rapidly develops language skills and more sophisticated cognitive structures but is still prelogical. He/she is not capable of conservation (the ability to understand that substance does not change although it changes shape or form; e.g., when water is poured from a tall glass to a short wide bowl, the preoperational child will think that there is now less water). He/she is also incapable of decentering (the ability to see things from another perspective; e.g., when the preoperational child is asked to sit at a table but draw the view from the other end of the table–looking at him/herself, he/she cannot do it). Conservation and decentering are necessary for logical thinking.
  3. CONCRETE OPERATIONAL STAGE: Ages 7 to adolescence. The child begins to grasp conservation and decentering. He/she begins to question: How does Santa really get to all those houses in one night? He/she can now reason logically but only on a concrete level. He/she cannot think hypothetically or abstractly (when a concrete operational child is shown a blue block and asked, “Is the block green or not green?,” he/she will probably answer, “Neither, it’s blue.” That blue is not green is too abstract). He/she solves problems logically but haphazardly.
  4. FORMAL OPERATIONS STAGE: Adolescence onwards. The person is now capable of sophisticated logical thought. He/she can think in the abstract and he/she can think hypothetically and solve problems using the logic of combinations. Research shows that only about 25% of the adult population uses formal operations on a regular basis. This level of thinking requires cognitive discipline. According to Kohlberg and Gilligan (1971:1065), 30% of thirty-year-olds may never reach the formal operational stage at all.

Piaget’s stages ended with Formal Operations, but many theorists have postulated a fifth stage called Dialectical Reasoning. This is a stage beyond logic where real critical thinking lies. It is the ability to perceive the frequent paradoxes in life and to question and analyze the assumptions that underlie logic.

 

What does it mean to think critically?

A person can be very logical and not have any fallacies in an argument yet still not be thinking critically. Critical thinking is the ability to detect and analyze the assumptions underlying the actions, decisions, and judgments in our lives.

  • All of our actions, decisions, and judgments spring from assumptions. If these are unchecked or inappropriate, we will make poor decisions and erroneous judgments.
  • In personal relationships, we learn to keep open lines of communication. We avoid uncritically reproducing patterns of parental interaction.
  • In the workplace, we avoid stagnation and atrophy caused by uncritically accepting what may come from another era.
  • It is essential to workplace democracy, because we can hold organizational decision makers accountable and probe behind cliques and rhetoric.

What is it like not to think critically?

We reproduce the damaging reactions we have learned, accept at face value all justifications given by organizations and political leaders, believe in television commercials, trust political commercials, and accept that, if a textbook says it or an organization does it, it must be right. Misconceptions about critical thinking including the following:

  • It is a wholly negative process–it tears down ideas and puts nothing in their place.
  • It will lead to relativistic freeze–the inability to make commitments to people, ideas, or structures. (Instead, commitments are informed ones.)
  • It seems to involve traumatic change–one is expected to abandon old assumptions continually. (Some beliefs stay the same–they are simply more informed.)
  • It is dispassionate and cold. (Rather, it is highly emotive and it is liberating to be free of past assumptions and the anxiety of self-scrutiny.)

Uncovering assumptions is the basis for critical thinking.

  • Becoming aware that assumptions exist.
  • Making the assumptions explicit.
  • Assessing their accuracy and validity by asking:
    • Do these assumptions make sense?
    • Do they fit reality as we have understood and lived it?
    • Under what conditions do they seem to hold true? Under what conditions do they seem false? (context)

Examples of critical thinking at work.

  • The foundation of true diversity.
  • The ability to engage in perspective taking, entering another’s head, and seeing as he/she sees.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity and paradox.
  • We can hold multiple interpretations of the same situation, and we are skeptical of people who say, “This very complicated problem basically has just one cause.”
  • Alertness to the premature ultimate.
  • An idea or concept that, when invoked, is so powerful and inspires such reverence that any further debate is forestalled (e.g., a politician invoking “democracy,” or it’s “what the customer wants”).
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