“Tomorrow we are going to
town to shop for you some clothes. This isn’t the country anymore. You
need to wear something other than moccasins and blue jeans.” Mariah was
planning for the next day, which meant to me she was going to stay over
The next day was a blur
of activity as we shopped about the town. One thing Mariah could do well
was to shop. She bought me the in style penny loafers, bobby socks,
straight skirts and soft matching blouses. As we shopped, I had no will
of my own concerning dress and that probably made selections easier for
her. Whatever she wanted me to wear was okay. Admiring the clothes in
her closet was always what I did, when she wasn’t around to give me one
of her “don’t touch” glances.
The pattern of family
ethics is established in such ways as this. Too bad so many different
cultures, races, backgrounds were suddenly thrown in upon the developing
family. One element felt they should isolate themselves and were unhappy
with too much, “togetherness.”
Mariah’s ethics with her
father’s family came out of Ireland where family was a working exercise.
Her husband’s was from another place and that spoke of a different goal.
Her Native American mother went to that vein and was generous. Suddenly
the woman was thrown totally away from her birth family who had actually
provided all the riches she enjoyed as a child, contrary to what people
believed came from her oil inheritances. That was in the form of
royalties but those could go up and down and were not dependable. The
beef, mutton, chickens, wild game in lockers was there for the family’s
survival. Canning of fruits and vegetables was just a habit up until
that time. They didn’t know what they were working toward, the family
just, “pulled together,” when Mariah was young in her first family.
“It seems I’m spending my
whole royalty check on groceries. I have credit and my last check only
covered that one thing. I owe my soul to the company store.” Mariah and
I visited into the night. This would be the last time I truly had all of
her time. She was extremely unhappy, not mentally ill. I had no idea her
philanthropy toward me in the way of school clothing was at the
sacrifice of something for her own family.
Up until that time the
family always held conversations and continual meetings to plan their
activities. Vee hated that time and apparently so did Mariah’s husband.
They felt it was a waste of time. Ethical dilemmas were not a part of
their history, and they didn’t want to be bothered or maybe they were
discouraged by differences that could arise or even feared the conflict
of open discussions for decision making.
“I hate talk, talk,
talking it over,” Vee was heard to say.
Mariah’s husband wasn’t
as vocal, he just wasn’t there. It didn’t take long for the family to
break down regarding shared values.
“So once a family has an
understanding of their shared values, how do they put them to work for
their philanthropy?” Rushworth Kidder asks.
The answer is: practice,
practice, practice. Kidder contends that making ethical decisions is
part of a process of learning and experience, requiring a great deal of
persistence. In "Ethical Fitness: Choosing Between Right vs. Right," he
likens ethical awareness and behavior to training for a sport or
practicing an instrument:
Ethics is not an
inoculation, it's a process. Most of us would scoff at a physical
fitness program that says you can take a magic potion once in your life
and be physically fit forever. Similarly being ethically fit involves
constant practice and challenging yourself. You don't "get" ethics by
reading one article, talking to one guru, or going to one seminar. You
learn a lot of fundamental ideas and get a conceptual platform to work
with. But you need to do something to develop your skill, just as
runners or musicians develop theirs. - Rushworth Kidder
Mariah returned to her
family to limp along, alone in her efforts to try to reestablish what
was quite quickly, eroding away. Her ancient practice of family
providing, for family changed and made my life better. Maybe this didn’t
say much for our society, but it was the way life was at the time, circa
1951. My better appearance opened up a new beginning for me. The
teachers took me more seriously, sweet, strong girls sought out my
friendship and boys were glancing in my directions. I wasn’t totally
happy with the school and felt confined and captured in a world without
my former genteel life style, but things were much better, so I
prevailed. No longer was I the potentially rebellious youth, but a
sober, individual, who was striving to accomplish.