Ethics Part Three: Did I see it with my own eyes?

Cattle die, kinsmen die, one dies himself in the same way, but a reputation never dies for the one who has acquired a good one Havamal 76

Or a reputation never dies for the one who has acquired a bad one.

It is very easy in today’s world of e-lists and Live Journal and Face Book to mar someone’s reputation with gossip. And I do mean gossip, that insidious, “Well, I heard from my mother’s sister’s daughter’s best friend’s boyfriend’s cousin’s wife that so and so does(insert unsavory, unpleasant, strange practice here)….”

That statement can not be traced back to any actual person, it’s just air in the wind.

According to the lore, specifically the Gragas Laws from Iceland, one of the most extensively codified series of laws in the medieval world,  in court cases, witnesses could testify only to what they saw and heard themselves. Hearsay was not allowed and perjury was gravely punished.

In today’s society, based in Middle English words and concepts and English common law, which is based in a combination of Saxon(Germanic) and Norman(Germanic with some Roman law thrown in for spice) we have libel and slander.Both of these terms are related to defamation, which is false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another.

Libel is defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.

Slander is defamation by spoken words or gestures.

To have a legal case against someone that has defamed you, you have to prove what they said was false and hurtful. To trace a rumor back to its source is a very difficult and time consuming practice. Sometimes you can’t track it down.

But more important than the legality of the issue is the ethics of the issue.

If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, how do you know if the air in the wind that you are passing is true?

And remember your own bias. Everyone has bias, those land mines of personal prejudice usually based in  psychological pain buried in their psyches. When you hear that air on the wind, does it play to your bias? If it does, do some research before you let that air on the wind move through your mouth into someone else’s ear.

I have quit e-lists because the conversation about Heathen/Pagan/Northern Tradition belief systems have gotten rumor driven, or where obnoxious people have taken over the conversation about our relationship to gods and men to aggressively push their own limited view.

I’ve written my opinion of slavish devotion to the lore elsewhere and my coworker Hrafn wrote a very insightful essay on UPG and lore.

I personally don’t like to compare Christianity with NT. I think they are too widely separated in intent to use as examples, but there is one thing that they should share in this limited context; do unto others.

Is your reputation important to you? If it is, don’t pass on rumors of practices and beliefs that you haven’t verified for yourself. Don’t help ruin someone else’s reputation if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes.

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One Response to Ethics Part Three: Did I see it with my own eyes?

  1. Nornoriel says:

    Good post. I think the rumor-mongering that modern Heathenry is prone to is very… unfortunate, especially in light of the above.

    It is one thing to see something that a person wrote about themselves and what they’re doing, and take exception to it. It happens. It’s an entirely different thing to play a game of Telephone where the facts get distorted and it becomes all hearsay and things blown wildly out of proportion and outright lies tossed in for good measure. I’ve been on the receiving end of the latter, as have other people I’ve known, and it’s… not cool. Not at all.


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