Six Honest Serving Men

kiplingRudyard Kipling once wrote a poem entitled Six Honest Serving Men. It went a little something like this:

I keep six honest serving-men
They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends’em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes—
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

It struck me that Kipling’s honest serving men could be put to good use today when addressing difficult and sensitive moral issues. Sometimes we’re not all that sensitive when it comes to sharing views which may offend. Stepping back and thinking big picture may help our views be heard. So when it comes to morality our six honest serving men may do the following work:

  • Who get’s to speak to that issue? Who is the voice of authority? Is it Mr. Reason, Mr. Experience, or Mr. Majority?
  • What do they get to speak about? Are some topics off limits? Are some things purely private and others public? If so, why?
  • Why them? What about them gives them knowledge/authority to address the issue? Why are they the trusted authority?
  • When/Where do they get to speak? Just to a particular place and time or more universally? Does their view hold for every person in every time and every place?
  • How do they speak? A voice for all or personal opinion? With force or humility? Do they crush opposing opinion or listen carefully to it?

These questions I think can bring some clarity and humility to thorny questions. It also means people can look at an issue without attacking each other. So next time a difficult moral question comes up think about how you might set Kipling’s men to work.


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