Following Your Moral Compass


A few years ago, I was leading a discussion on ethics for the employees of a land acquisition company. At the coffee break, one of the participants came up to me, introduced himself, and said, “I am an atheist.” “Fine,” I replied, “be the most ethical atheist you can be.” I think he was trying to “get off the hook thinking only religious folks have to be ethical. Not so, morality and ethics apply to  everyone.

In the matter of ethical-moral behavior, there are three dynamics to especially keep in mind: first, the importance of self-knowledge – what your inner values and principles are and what tempts you away from living them; second, having a moral compass, that is a guide based on your values and principles that helps you to make the right moral decisions; and third, the humility to learn from your moral mistakes and the courage to change your behavior.

As a help to live these three dynamics, consider the following

allegory. It is called “Autobiography in 5 Chapters,” and is by Portia Nelson.

Chapter One:

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost…..I am hopeless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two:

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three:

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in….it is a habit….but my

eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter Four:

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter Five:

I walk down another street.

“The integrity of the upright guides them” (Proverbs 11:3).

Max Oliva, SJ worked in Las Vegas for six years. The only Jesuit in the state of Nevada, his main ministry was called “Ethics In The Marketplace.” Now in Spokane, he has a continued involvement in Las Vegas, albeit on a part-time basis. His web site is found here -

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 01:52h, 13 September Reply

    Thank you Max!

  • graeme quinlan
    Posted at 02:05h, 13 September Reply

    I loved this it speaks so deeply of the journey of life .The Highs ,The Lows .The Challenges of life and the ultimate win.At last Victory over adversity.

  • Margaret Powell
    Posted at 15:44h, 13 September Reply

    Always learn from your sharing! Still hope to visit before too much longer.

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