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By Donna Flood
Chapter 19 - Family Ethics Dilemma

“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 night.

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.

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