Ethics and Core Beliefs (Jan-Feb 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Terry Smith and Ron Joyner
January – February, 2005

Using the words Christian and ethics together should be redundant. After all, Christianity is about good moral behavior, and proper ethics is no more than making a fair and honest representation to those whom we owe a transactional duty. The knowledge that brings us to faith in Christ and a commitment to live righteously should be more than adequate in providing a moral basis upon which to make good ethical decisions.

So why is it that Christians so often struggle with making ethical decisions? The answer lies with the fact that none of us are immune from the influence of self-interest. What we feel that we must do in order to preserve our self-image, our security, and our sense of control will invariably determine our moral decisions in dealing with others. Our core beliefs, those deeply entrenched beliefs about control, esteem, and safety, will be the final arbitrator in any ethical decisions that we make in balancing our own perceived needs with the interests of other people.

TWO STORIES
Every one of us is more strongly influenced by what we believe than by what we know. Take Ray for example. Ray is a church-based family counselor. Growing up as the caretaker son after his alcoholic father abandoned the family, Ray was naturally drawn to the counseling field. He wanted very much to help others avoid the kind of hurt and personal disruption that he experienced in his own family.

Ray has really been affected by the financial dilemma facing one of his single parent clients. A young mother of two has had no luck in obtaining a loan to purchase a replacement for her old wreck of a car. She has no husband, no parents, and no friends to help. Ray has been working with this lady for a number of months and has really become concerned, so he cosigned her auto loan. When the bank called their home and talked to Ray’s wife about obtaining additional information, she became very concerned and questioned Ray about the nature of his relationship with this woman. He could not understand why his wife could be so upset over his trying to help another person in a time of need.

Ray’s judgment was blinded by his core beliefs about what provides him esteem and safety. In his heart-of-hearts, Ray really believes that to be of value to others he needs to be able to fix their problems. Nevertheless, in his attempt to help his client Ray committed a significant ethical breach for a professional, licensed counselor. He became directly involved in the personal affairs of his client. Ray believes his actions were justified. Ray honored his core belief about esteem by fixing his clients financial problem, and he certainly felt more valued by his client as his core belief about security reinforced his self-perception as a good counselor. Ray dutifully carried out what he learned early in his life—how to be a good caretaker for others. What Ray believed won out over what he knew.

Arlene’s is another interesting story. Arlene is a successful realtor, and this despite the fact that her father always put her down and tried to discourage her natural ambition. She is a regular churchgoer and is thought well of throughout the community. The month is almost at an end and with one more sale Arlene can beat out Jim as the highest producing broker within the agency. The recognition and the bonus that comes with this achievement would be a real ego boost for this twice divorced, highly competitive real estate agent.

When a young couple took a liking to the house with the nice wooded area behind the backyard, Arlene was thrilled with the prospect that this sale would put her over the top and win her the recognition as realtor-of-the-month. She was aware that a newly planned development just behind the house might threaten the wooded area so admired by her clients, but the planned development had only passed the first of three required readings before the local planning commission. Arlene reasoned that she could not be sure that any further development would actually take place. The couple bought the house and Arlene beat out Jim as the realtor-of-the-month. In the morning newspaper some weeks later Arlene noticed in the business section that a new development passed the third and final action of the planning commission. She commented to herself, “ You can never be sure about what politicians will do.”

Arlene too made a flawed ethical decision. Her judgment to withhold information was influenced by ill-formed core beliefs having to do with power and self-esteem. Arlene used a clever rationalization to justify a decision that she wanted to label as ethical but that she needed to fit her view of reality. By rationalizing that she needn’t share what she didn’t know to be fact, Arlene served her core belief about power by not being dominated by a man, and she also honored her core belief about esteem by establishing her worth through winning. Like Ray, Arlene saw her situation through psychic lenses that distorted reality and created a blurred view of what constitutes ethical behavior.

MORE ABOUT CORE BELIEFS
Core beliefs are like the lenses in a pair of eyeglasses. Images first pass through the lenses before they reach the eye. The effect of the lenses determines how clearly the eyes see. Just like the lenses in a pair of eyeglasses, core beliefs influence the way we see the world. Our core beliefs influence how we determine what is to be ethical behavior.

Core Beliefs

Core beliefs are primitive and powerful. They center on what makes us feel safe, what makes us feel good about ourselves, and what gives us a sense of being in control. These core beliefs will illuminate all of the major elements of our personality—physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual. These core beliefs color every dimension of our existence as pertains to life, responsibility, vision, worth, and pain. Core beliefs are the tools we each use to create our own perception of reality.

Some of our core beliefs are taught while others are learned through our own experiences. Some of our core beliefs come about as a result of good influences and careful, loving, informed instruction. Other core beliefs come about as a result of bad information, misinterpretation, trauma, and failure. When constructive and functional, our core beliefs assist us in recognizing and affirming truth, and in living realistically and relationally. Destructive and dysfunctional core beliefs put us at odds with others and warp our interpretation of the world around us. When malformed and toxic, core beliefs are a source of distress and illusion. This is especially true when any ill-conceived core beliefs are used in our attempt to determine what is to be ethical behavior.

WHEN CORE BELIEFS FAIL US
The story for Ray and Arlene is not over. Ray’s wife is convinced that he is having an affair with the women whose car note he cosigned. She wants Ray to immediately transfer this woman’s care to another counselor. Ray continues to assert his innocence and claims that he cannot abandon his client at this critical point in her therapy. Ray’s wife has asked him to sleep in the spare room and has requested that they seek marriage counseling. Ray is upset, his wife is beside herself, and the children know something is haywire in their household. Ray feels that he has made a mess of everything.

Arlene has a surprise coming as well. The couple that used her as their realtor complained to the agency manager about Arlene’s withholding information critical to their decision to purchase their new home, They represented that if they had known of the pending development behind their house they would have waited to buy or would have purchased a home in another location. When questioned by her manager, Arlene contended that she had withheld nothing, as there was nothing definitive to tell at the time about any actions taken by the planning commission. The manager said that it appeared to him that she had merely concocted a cleaver way to justify not telling her client information that would likely kill the deal she was working so hard to complete. He promptly rescinded his previous action in recognizing her as realtor-of-the-month and requested that she refund her bonus. Jim was given recognition as realtor-of-the-month. Arlene was humiliated and angry. She determined to watch her back and not let anyone get the best of her again.

Both Ray and Arlene have experienced “the void”. This is a place that any of us can end up when our behavior damages our well-being and brings harm to others. Ray’s core beliefs were so immature that they took him into “the void.” He was still following rules as an adult that had worked for him as a young man in securing the admiration of his mother. Arlene, on the other hand, possessed core beliefs that demanded she sustain her self-esteem by winning and protect her security by avoiding any dominance by men. Both Ray and Arlene were ill served by core beliefs that resulted in bad decisions that hurt both them and others.

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE VOID
The flaws that led Ray and Arlene to make unethical decisions and placed them in “the void” are apparent to us as readers. But are we as clear about the reasons that we might do the same thing? How will we respond when we find ourselves in “the void” created by flawed, self-serving decisions molded by immature or ill-formed core beliefs?

Dr. James Loder identifies four dimensions of human personality consisting of the human spirit, the external world, “the void”, and God. In the very two-dimensional world of Ray and Arlene, their core beliefs to survive and thrive interact with the external world according to the dictates of their core beliefs and a decision results. Programmed primarily by the experiences occurring between the ages of 0 and 12, Ray and Arlene made an unconscious application of core beliefs that were formed very early and that were allowed to stand as the standard against which the meaning of life is determined. Their core beliefs became their reality but brought them into “the void.” “The void” came to Ray and Arlene, just like it will come to each of us, when their two dimensional approach to life collapsed in its ability to support good decision-making. The core beliefs of Ray and Arlene simply are too customized, too self-serving, to allow either of them the real objectivity they needed to make a sound ethical decision. The decisions guided by their core beliefs brought them both nothing but emptiness, despair, humiliation, anger, and rejection.

What is needed when we experience “the void”? What is needed is a new point of reference. What is needed is something that will reconcile our ill-conceived notions. What is needed is the addition of the fourth dimension to our human existence—God.

AVOIDING THE GRAVEN IMAGE
When experiencing the harsh reality that “the void” creates, such as being accused of unethical behavior, we seek a trusted and transforming force to bring us out of our misery. Where do we go to best educate and tame our frail or toxic core beliefs that by their dominance can sometimes impair our ability to do right by others? We can look to Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Only such a personal and profound force of creation is capable of influencing us to accept new, compensating core beliefs that can moderate and antidote our old incorrect and toxic ways of thinking.

But even in this effort at transformation, we have to be watchful of the lingering influence of our core beliefs. We need to make sure that we don’t end up creating our new reality merely as an image projected through the lens of our old core beliefs. So many times the God we seek is nothing more than a graven image made by our own psychic hand. Our core beliefs are perfectly capable of creating an interpretation of God and of his truth that coincidently meets our own self-serving needs. It is not surprising that our efforts to find God sometimes fall short.

When entering this fourth dimension of human existence, when seeking God, we are to enter with the demeanor of a little child. We are to be as one who is to be fed and given drink by the Holy Spirit of God. We are to listen and be taught. We are to mimic the life of Jesus, our teacher. We are to lean upon those more mature than ourselves who we can trust. In these trusting relationships we will gain the feedback and develop the insights that allow new beliefs to form that will compensate for the false or toxic beliefs that took root early in our lives. The fact is children are great recorders but terrible interpreters (an insight given by Dr. David Semands over thirty years ago). There are things about our lives that we cannot see, and others can help us identify core beliefs that are harmful to our well-being. There are also things about ourselves that neither we nor anyone else can see, and only the Holy Spirit acting through the truth of scripture, the power of prayer, the grace extended through confession, and the miracle of a personal indwelling can ever bring us out of the deception created by ill-formed core beliefs. The transforming action of the Holy Spirit acts as that final, corrective lens that will project for us a life of spiritual and personal reality that makes us more compassionate, obedient, and ethical human beings.New Wineskins

Terry SmithTerry S. Smith, B.A., M.A., M.Th.,D.Min. (Boston University in Personality, Religion and Culture) provides pastoral counseling, life coaching, and leadership development for Woodmont Hills church and business community. He and his wife Charlotte have been married thirty-nine years and have four daughters and six grandchildren. [E-mail Terry Smith]

Ron JoynerRon Joyner, M.H.A. (Hospital Administration), has worked twenty-five years in health administration and now is a consultant in communication strategies and leadership coaching.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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