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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Calibrate Your Moral Compass

Everybody knows that the needle on a compass points "north," right?

But is that north as in "the North Pole"?

Nope.

In fact, a compass points to "magnetic north," a place around 500 miles from the north pole. (Why? It's complicated; let's not go into it now.)

So, depending on where you are on the earth's surface, your compass needs to be calibrated so you can orient your map to true north.

Now, we often hear talk about one's "moral compass." People seem to feel that the "moral compass" is a sort of scientific instrument, like the physical compass, that clearly points the way, no matter the situation.

For example, one website, Vision.org, writes:

A compass … is a consistent and true indicator of physical direction. [The mental processes described by the words "moral compass"] are consistent and true indicators upon which personal belief and action can be based.

But as we've seen, even a real compass has to be calibrated for one's current position. So, while we may have some absolute principles regarding our own behavior, some "consistent and true indicators," those principles still need to be thoughtfully adapted to our current situation.

I won't even get into the fact that magnetic north moves around continually and unpredictably, meaning that a calibration that worked at one time may be entirely off a few years later.

Suffice to say, we all need to assess and reassess the application of our principles, depending on circumstance.

So get calibrated, and practice compassion.

You'll be happier.

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