Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership


Develop a Discerning Moral Pallet

Janice and I sat in one of our first five star dinning experiences years ago with the appropriate level of delight. With our first bite we were amazed at the convergence of subtle flavor, the nuance of spice, that drew out the character of our food without over powering it. We found that the more experiences like these we had the more “discerning” our pallets became. We laughed at ourselves the day we realized we had become food critics – with each new experience we compared and contrasted the artistry and skill of prior culinary delights.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews in the Christian scriptures refers to this kind of development i.e., the discernment that comes by exposure over time, in the ability to recognize moral and ethical issues;

…for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)

It is easier to go through life without this kind of moral development, to avoid the rigor of thought or the discipline of learning. Yet the consequence of ignorance is far from blissful. The morally underdeveloped neither recognize the consequences of their own behaviors nor the outcomes resulting from others’ behaviors. This failure to extrapolate outcomes, to only live in the moment of narcissistic abandonment, excuses damaging behaviors as by-products of fate or the intent of some outside force of evil or just bad luck. Moral immaturity is not neutral, as it often claims to be, by persisting  in a failure to develop it becomes the most common of agents in the propagation of evil – passive acquiescence.

Edmund Burke said,

The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.

I contend that the act of doing nothing (it is an action resulting from deliberate choice) trains a person to consistently contribute to the existence of evil. This kind of socially acceptable moral turpitude shows up with many faces. It is evident in the unwillingness to resist the behavior of a bad boss. It shows up in a failure to correct ignorant rants on Facebook. It shows up in turning a blind eye to someone stealing from the company. It shows up in deciding that such efforts as voting or writing a congressman are mere futility. It shows up in any attitude that seeks to insulate oneself from the discomfiture of evil as though the reach of evil were containable. Perhaps the biggest lie exposed in the study of history is that evil can be eradicated by ignoring it. We may consider Chamberlain a fool for attempting to pacify Hitler, yet in an odd form of irony conduct our lives on the same principle thus demonstrating our own foolishness.

I do not suggest that the mature become some kind of pompous moral bigots who determine the norm of morality like brown-shirted moral police. Rather I suggest that good men and women cease being silent to those things that damage others. Say something. Learn by practice how to recognize the difference between good and evil. One need not become a raving moral crusader to be a person who develops and expresses clear moral convictions. One need only to abandon the lie of insular passivity.

I was struck by this passage in Hebrews. It made me think about my own moral development. How discerning is my moral pallet? Am I able to discern the subtleties of moral decision making or am I still a child who can neither identify the issue nor ponder solutions? Am I captive to fear? I know the consequence of speaking up and I see the consequence of remaining silent. I choose the former because its end is a healing release from the tyranny of repression and shaming (the tools of manipulation). I don’t move forward as a master of moral arbitration but as a student of moral reasoning still learning how to distinguish the good and walk it out in behavior. How about you?


Thank you for serving

iStock_000009064865MediumWe were entertaining one of our new employees from our Tennessee factory and to give him a true Southern California experience we took him to In-N-Out.  I paid for the order and turned to see a  man in a classic 1960s green fatigue coat with the unmistakable yellow service ribbon with three stripes.  He looked worn almost haunted.

“Are you a Vietnam vet?” I asked.

“I am” he answered with a look that wondered where I was going with the inquiry.  The mix of pride and suspicion with which he answered the question struck me. But then, I grew up during that war.  I had friends in that war that I sat with upon their return and heard about their struggles, the same mix of pride and suspicion.  I know these two emotions aren’t just rooted in the political chaos that surrounded the Vietnam war, but in the very nature of war and combat itself. I saw combat change friends.

“Thank you, for your service,” I said holding his gaze.

Suspicion seemed to melt into gratitude – almost relief. There was no commentary on what I think about war and its morality.  There was no judgment about his role.  There was my simple recognition that while I have no real idea of what any veteran has endured in combat (the draft ended right after I registered). I do have an appreciation for any man or woman who will stand in the gap to defend the defenseless and insist upon justice.  There is a place to debate the morality of war – it is not in the face of those who have endured its worse.

“You are welcome,” he said as he sat a little straighter.

To all veterans I say, thank you, for your service. Thank you, for standing up for the ideals of liberty, justice for all and the idea that all men (and women) are created equal. Thank you, for enduring the wounds both physical and emotional.  Thank you, for serving with discipline in the midst of unbridled cruelty. Thank you, for delivering and protecting the country that has provided me with the opportunities I enjoy – opportunities your service encourages me to use to serve others as you have done so courageously.