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THE "REGARD FOR OTHERS" ETHIC


John Sommerville currently teaches history at the University of Florida. He has been carrying out an exercise with his students for years. He challenges his students with the following thought experiment.


Imagine that you see a little old lady coming down the street at night and she is carrying a great big purse. It suddenly occurs to you that she very little and frail and it would be incredibly easy just to knock her over and grab the purse. But you don’t. Why not?


There are only two possible answers. The answer of "shame and honour" culture is that you don’t do it because it would make you despicable person unworthy of respect. It would dishonor your family or tribe. People would despise you for picking on the weak. It would not be a strong thing to do and it is critical that strength be respected. That approach, the professor says, is self regarding. You are thinking almost entirely of yourself and your tribe. You are thinking only of honour and reputation.


The second option is that you would imagine how painful it would be to be mugged and how hard it would be for the woman if she depended on the money in her purse and it was taken from her. You ask youself, if I mug her, what will happen to her and what will happen to the people who depend on her. All else being equal you want her to have a good life that is safe, so you don’t do it. This is called the "regards for others" ethic which is utterly different from the "shame and honour" culture.


Professor Sommerville would ask his class, "All right, how many of you would take the purse and why not." No one would take the purse, and the reason almost totally is the regards for others ethic.


Then he would point out that they had choosen the Christian way of life.


The ethical system that dominated the world before Jesus was the "shame and honour" ethic and it did not work out for the poor very well.


The world is critical of the church but in the end we all want more of the other first ethic that Jesus is teaching here. In fact, most of us would say that the reason the world is a mess is because we have stopped putting others first. We have made all kinds of expections to treating people like Jesus taught here. We have fallen back into the shame and honour ethic and it is not working.


Timothy Keller Kings Cross

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