Thoughts on Virtues and Ethics

As I’ve been reflecting on some of my Clergy Training Program work, one of the things that I have found to be extremely valuable these past 8 months or so was the work I did to examine what the values and ethics are in our society, and develop a personal code of ethics to help me navigate the work I do as a Priest. Since writing it, this Code of Ethics has continued to be useful to me and to my practice.  This is also part of the clergy continuing education, and is something that is required to be re-examined and re-evaluated at least once every three years, though honestly I expect I’ll be doing it more often than that. Reflection is a key part of this practice, and that commitment to continuing reflecting and re-evaluting my ethics may in fact be one of the things I add to my personal code of ethics when I revise it. Here is my Personal Code of Ethics as it stands today:

Personal Clergy Code of Ethics

  • “I will pray with the Good Fire” – I will maintain my own practice and my own relationship with the Kindreds. In this way I will have the fertile soil in which to grow into my role as a Priest.
  • “I will lead others to the Flame” – This is part of my Initiate Oath, and means that I will not hoard my knowledge or skills. I will be a good role model, guide, and teacher for all those who seek to walk the path of neo-paganism, and I will provide services relating to this path as much as I am able.
  • “I will be kind to others” – It costs me nothing to be kind to someone. My words and actions have the possibility of deeply affecting others, and my kindness may be the only bit of hope a person sees that day. I will also do what I am able to be sure that kindness is a priority in interactions that I observe and am part of.
  • “I will acknowledge growth” – This is two fold: I am constantly growing and as such should strive to continue learning. Others are also constantly growing, and I should allow in my perception of them that they are continuing to learn. I will not hold grudges.
  • “I will be an independent and responsible person” – I will be my own person, and determine my own actions. I will walk my walk, and not let others’ vision of me influence my path. I am responsible for my own actions, and will strive to remember that I am not responsible of the actions of others. I will also fulfill duties that make me a responsible member of society and the priesthood, especially as it relates to the law.
  • “I will be loyal and hold true to my word.” – When I make a commitment, those who are depending on me should be able to be certain that I will not back out, or that if I do it is for a very good reason. I will speak truth whenever possible, admit when I don’t know, and seek out those who do know. I will maintain the confidence of those who have trusted me to hold space with them.

When we write our Personal Code of Ethics for use as Clergy, one of the things we’re asked to look at is the Nine Virtues within ADF, as well what kinds of virtues exist within our society and how those two might play off each other. It is meant to give a starting point in developing our own ethics. The Nine Virtues in ADF are Wisdom, Piety, Vision, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Moderation, Hospitality, and Fertility. In addition to the Nine Virtues, other ethical codes that have influenced my own code of ethics in particular are The Delphic Maxims and The Hippocratic Oath. Throughout all these virtues and ethical codes are values that can be seen woven through the fabric of our society. So, where do the values in our society come from and how do they relate to these ADF Nine Virtues and other ethical codes?

Our society places value on wisdom, and as a culture we encourage people to seek out those who have gained wisdom through their life experiences. However, as a Millennial it is also encouraged to seek wisdom from less established sources, and instead seek wisdom through personal experience gained by risk-taking and creative problem solving. I seek to have wisdom by sharing the knowledge I have gained, and thus providing others with the opportunity to share in that wisdom.

Seeking wisdom through personal experience, risk-taking, and creative problem solving also relates to the virtue of vision. We value the ability to see the bigger picture, and plan out ways to make that dream a reality. I have goals, and in order to see those goals come to fruition I am acknowledging that there is always room for growth, and that there is always room for improvement.

This personal experience, risk-taking, and creative problem solving also relates in part to the virtue of fertility. We like to encourage freethinkers and those with creative minds. Fertility really sums up this focus I have on growth and my dedication to continue growing, both as a person and as a Priest, as well as my dedication to helping others grow and acknowledging that they are always growing and changing.

There is value placed on piety in our society, though in ADF we define piety based on the actions we take in our religion, rather than a certain set of ascribed beliefs. For me this is the act of prayer and maintaining my relationship with the Kindreds. It is also important for me to continue in my personal religious practices both for my own piety, but also so that I have integrity when I am discussing those practices with others, and not be disingenuous whether I’m writing liturgy, counseling others, or performing rituals

Integrity can be summed up in the famous line from Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.” From the Delphic Maxims, one of the most well known is maxim #8: “Know Thyself.” If we are in tune with who we are and what we desire we have the ability to begin to sort out what our ethics are, and how to live with integrity in our own lives. I’ve had to examine myself in order to write this Code of Ethics in the first place, and when I consider how I will be an independent person, I need to first have a good idea of who that independent person is.

In America integrity seems to be particularly valued. That attempt to walk to the beat of your own drum and not to let others define who you are. This in and of itself is often something that takes courage. Henry David Thoreau said “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” We have a history of self-reliance and a certain flair for independence as well as take pride in our ability (and right) to be ourselves.

This integrity is something that often takes both wisdom and courage. It takes wisdom to know what path I should walk, and wisdom to examine my own values and how they apply to my path. It takes courage to be independent and walk my walk. It can also take courage to hold true to my word when I may be pressured to do otherwise.

Perseverance can be seen alongside integrity and courage. In determining who I am, I will need to persevere in order to maintain that sense of self despite any obstacles I may encounter. I will need to persevere in continuing my path of growth and in continuing to challenge myself.

There is a huge precedence for the value of perseverance in America. In is contained in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence that we are each entitled to “the pursuit of happiness.” There are stories, myths, and legends about people in America who came here with nothing and through their perseverance built a life for themselves and became rich an famous. The concept of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is widely known, and generally hugely valued.

Moderation is also something that is valued here, though it seems to be a value that has a variable degree of implementation. One can be moderate in things from drugs and drinking, to consumerism, to sex. We tend to see a lot a press given to enforce the idea of moderation as it relates to puritan ideals such as abstaining from drinking, drugs, and sex. This contrasts sharply with the other part of the virtue of fertility. However, there is less social pressure put on those who engage in rampant consumerism, and in some cases, society even seems to encourage this lack of moderation. For me in my personal code of ethics, I will strive to moderate my behavior to reflect my ethics.

The last virtue, hospitality, is encouraged in our culture, but it seems a bit more one-sided that the value placed on in in the context of ADF and the *ghosti relationship. Hospitality is a guest-host relationship, and each party has duties to hold to. In American society the host often seems to have more duties and the guest less. Think of parties you’ve attended where many of the guests leave without picking up after themselves, or family gatherings where someone always seems to overstay their welcome. For me, a lot of the idea of hospitality, of *ghosti, of kharis boils down to kindness. Being kind to others in as many ways as possible is a way of building relationship, and building the trust necessary to have a good relationship.

Relationships. That can sum up my approach to my spirituality and religion fairly succinctly. It is all about relationships, whether that is between two or more people, two or more groups, a person and the Kindreds, or any other collection of people and spirits. We build these relationships based on reciprocity and mutual benefit. My personal code of ethics allows me to be sure I’m staying true to myself in my actions and interactions with others. And reflecting on and re-evaluating my code of ethics on a regular basis will help me both maintain knowledge of my ethical conduct and allow me to see if there are parts that need to be added or removed to better maintain myself and my relationships with others.

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