Friday, July 29, 2011

There's a Rule Book for This?

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

Moral Code. I might have an easier time if I wrote about an amoral code. Both Sara and Russ would and do have a much more clearly defined sense of wrong than right. Connor wouldn’t be able to play along but so far he’s employed a don’t ask and my head won’t explode approach to his wife and her best friend’s rules of engagement. RUT ROH. I do believe I’m more like my protagonist than I’d generally admit. Nevermind. Today is a new day. I doubt most people (real or imaginary) have ever sat down to put their codes of conduct down on a piece paper. We live by them but, unless you’ve read the Jane Austen handbook and are living by the WWJD (“What would Jane do?”) philosophy, you’re probably in the same leaky ethical boat in which we are paddling through life. So let’s start at the beginning.

Morality. Definition. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct. Okay, that one won’t work. Right or good? Oops. Sara and Russ are going to have some trouble with the non-quantifiable. For example, Sara thinks learning to pick locks is good. After all, you never know when you’re going to want to have a peak inside a place, trying to help someone out, and for whatever reason the owner of said premises is unavailable (okay, unwilling) to share, A little B & E is good there, right? And Russ? He spends his nights advising radio listeners to follow their baser instincts. Good, sure. Sometimes great. But probably not what the Heritage dictionary folks had in mind. Okay, going definitional won’t work unless we’re conceding that our heroine’s moral code can be sort of situational.

Maybe an examination of the moral codes universally incorporated into most of the world’s major religious texts might work. While in today’s world with its reinterpretation of such texts to support personal ideologies, the truth is that most religions preach some version of the golden rule. Personal conduct, the outward manifestation of the moral code, is guided by a do onto others tolerance. Unfortunately for our main players, this one isn’t going to work due to the fine print. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you is great. It works if the “others”are strangers or people you just met with whom you have no history. For Sara do onto other includes doing onto those that done you wrong. It’s not turn the other cheek so much as make sure the next time those cheeks want to sit in the big chair, there’s a tack waiting for them (without fingerprints, natch). Even the far more upright Connor can’t live by this one since duty, including allegiance to superiors (and sometimes politicians) combined with his unique special operations skill set frequently make him the first actor in the play of life. More of a do onto others before they do onto you. Yep, this one won’t work for any of my team.

What about Hammurabi? Unlike most moral guides, he wrote the plan down. All 282 rules of it complete with relative punishments for failure to comply.There’s your bright line. Surely even Sara could figure out her moral responsibilities if there were a laminated wall poster available for reference. Plus, Hammurabi was a big believer in an eye for an eye. His theory was more time sensitive than the Buddhist concept of kharma but there’s a sense of justice to it that appeals to all three of my main characters. And yet...Sara is a big believer in a head for an eye. She has no sense of proportionality. Two-hundred eighty two rules are about two hundred eighty more than Russ can get behind. Commitment issues. And Connor? Well, most of the time he won’t have an opportunity to consult the book before he pretty much has to take care of business.

Hmmm. Having run out of a lot of the biggies, my little gang of three are left with the one word moral code. Do. Don’t wait for someone to fix what’s wrong. Do. Don’t pretend all is well when it’s not. Do. And when things go bad on your watch and someone needs to be accountable. Do. That way, whatever they get wrong in the implementation of their very individual moral codes, they can at least say that they lived by them. That morality wasn’t a distant concept or an interesting discussion at parties. It isn’t even a sporting good tag lines because ‘just’implies that doing once will be enough and ‘it’is ambiguous enough to includs all those things that should never be done regardless of the fame, glory or reward that might come with the successful completion of the mission. Successful isn’t part of their moral codes. Genuine attempt is. Real action is. Do.

What’s your moral code? Can you articulate it or is it just instinct? In writing this, I realized I need to think more about the nuances of my own plan for right and wrong. And I need to think bigger. World changing bigger. I’m feeling more relevant by the second. Thanks for that and for reading.


P.S. The wonderful Seattle Mystery Bookshop team is getting Michael Wiley to inscribe a copy of his new book, A Bad Night's Sleep, for me. Yeah! And if you're near Ball State U this weekend, our own Lois Winston is speaking at the Midwest Writers' Conference.

Hurry up, Mr. Postman


Michael Wiley said...

Great reflections, Gabi. And I hate to say that Nike Shoes comes pretty close to articulating a strong moral code, but "Just do it" -- or, as you say, "Do" -- often seems like good advice.

Gabi said...

Nike may have the soundbite but they also have Michael Vick, convicted of animal cruelty, as a spokesman. Maybe a moral code can't be found on piece of paper. Maybe it is only located in the heart.

Can't wait to get my book!

Meredith Cole said...

Great post, Gabi. You're right--moral codes can be a bit slippery (is it okay to steal if your family is hungry?). But it sounds like your characters have good instincts.