Reflections on forty-two ideals for living well (part two)

By Dr. John F. Sase

Gerard J. Senick, senior editor

Julie Gale Sase, proofreader

"Do or do not... there is no try."

-Master Yoda (from "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," Lucasfilm, 1980)

In order to sustain and thrive, both Economics and Law depend upon the harmonious unity of diverse resources and the montage of human cultures. Our greatest asset in Detroit and Southeast Michigan may be that we have a people who form a cultural mosaic representing more than 125 different language groups and geographic regions of the world. Economic development depends upon Law. However, the fragmentation of our human society and the marginalization of specific groups undermine the evolution of our global society and economy. This happens both through the political media and the blame laid upon large cultures for the extreme acts of violence by small groups of individuals.

Bringing our people together in harmonious unity of growth would enable us to extend a vast network for trade outward to virtually every country in the world. However, to accomplish this task, we need to develop a code of living that integrates and transcends the philosophies, religious beliefs, and day-to-day social behavior of all members of our culturally rich region of Southeast Michigan.

I (Dr. Sase) have explored some of the ideas and traditions that appear to be the roots of most of our active cultural and religious traditions today (at least in part). Many of the early traditions and older rules for living translate well into our modern concepts and languages. In our last column for the Legal News (December 2015), we explored one set of these rules for living from an older tradition, the Forty-Two Ideals of Ma'at from ancient Egypt. This month, we return to these ideals, which have served as the inspiration for perhaps 80 percent of the modern codes for living that are found in texts throughout the world.

The Forty-Two Ideals of Ma'at present us with a set of principles that date from the third millennium BCE. These codes reflect the ancient Egyptian concepts of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. These codes helped these ancients to deal with the diversity of culture at the crossroads of civilization by providing direction for people to get along with one another.

In respect to these ideals, the deity Ma'at has been personified as the god(dess) who set the universe from chaos to order at the moment of creation. In addition, s/he is credited with guiding the actions of mortals. As recorded in the Pyramid Texts more than 4,300 years ago, our human ancestors considered the Forty-Two Ideals of Ma'at as the norm for nature and society, in this world and the next. However, in reading them we must wonder whether or not these ideals are collections of collections from far earlier points along the human highway. The Ideals of Ma'at, as we know them, represented the ethical and moral principles that all Egyptian citizens were expected to follow throughout their daily lives in order to act with honor and truth in matters involving deity, family, community, nation, and environment. These principles for living a good life are reflected in the literature of modern cultures and traditions. Perhaps by returning to a root source we can reconcile differences and unify the various religious and cultural standards that exist in the 21st century CE. We have represented the first half of this source below and have followed it with the concluding twenty-one Ideals. These codes are illustrated in one way or another in most world religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and others.

Redux: Forty-Two Ideals of Ma'at, Part 1

1. We will honor virtue, as realized and as voluntarily attained by each human being. In its essence, virtue is the Golden Rule: We will not do to our fellow humans that which is hateful to ourselves. Virtue is good manners, hope, justice, temperance, benevolent love, peace, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and control of the senses, forgiveness, non-covetousness, inner purity, reflective prudence, wisdom, truthfulness, freedom from anger, mindfulness, concentration, compassion, altruistic and sympathetic joy, equanimity, moral rectitude, courage, respect, honesty, honor, and loyalty, to name but a few.

2. We benefit from gratitude because it is an affirmation of goodness in the world and the benefits that we have received from it. The source of this goodness lies outside of ourselves as we acknowledge that higher powers as well as other humans help us to achieve this goodness.

3. We will be peaceful because peace of mind prevents stress and anxiety in our lives by making our minds calm while awakening our inner strength and confidence. Though peacefulness remains independent of external conditions, it does help us to connect better with others around us.

4. We will respect the rights and property of others because this respect is fundamental to getting along with others. Through the harmony of positive interaction and respect, all of us may feel valued as well as safer and more secure.

5. We will affirm that all life is sacred because everything within life is interconnected, as are Spirituality, Politics, and Economics intertwined. Indigenous people on our planet often refer to this belief as the Earth Ethic. When we realize that Sky, Earth, and Water are sacred, we become one with all.

6. We will give offerings that are genuine. Sincere giving out of our concern for others and the world around us produces a genuine effect in the lives of all. Perhaps this reminds us that we should consider that tax deductions and potential notability are the byproducts rather than the purpose of our philanthropy.

7. We will live in truth that brings us to wholeness and to a clear higher consciousness instead of deception, which offers only false riches and superficial success. Such a lust for power, possessions, and pleasure that we witness daily in the media appears to be the true path. However, it merely leads to the inner death of our humanity.

8. We will regard all altars with respect because many paths to higher truths and consciousness exist. Since the most ancient of times, these sites have been respected as the place, point, or vortex at which the divine and human worlds interact.

9. We will speak with sincerity because this constitutes the bold, though arduous, path to moral perfection. When we know right from wrong, sincere speech helps us to do what we say and to avoid doing the opposite.

10. We will consume only our fair share because the world contains scarce resources. These resources are spread across our planet to greater or lesser degrees of equanimity. The economics of a fair share are marked by impartiality and honesty. Fair share reflects the economics of freedom from unfair self-interest, prejudice, and favoritism. In business relations, this practice forms the basis for knowing, liking, and trusting a trading partner.

11. We will offer words of good intent, especially in situations of great struggle. On a battlefield, soldiers often envision the enemy as either nonhuman or subhuman. Words of good intent include calling those whom we confront as brave, enduring, honorable, sincere, loyal to their cause, and other terms that we ourselves would want to be called in such situations, ones that military generals remind us should occur only as a last resort.

12. We will relate to others in peace because this forms the path to the ideal of freedom and happiness among people. This sense of world peace reflects the idea of planetary nonviolence by which nations cooperate willingly in a way that prevents warfare-a cessation of hostility amongst all humanity.

13. We will honor animals with reverence because of the inherent value and equality of all life, human and nonhuman. As a species, we have forgotten our place in the food chain and our responsibility for dominion that we once practiced on this planet. Ethical stewardship involves protecting animals from unnecessary exploitation and suffering.

14. We will be trustworthy because being trusted is a greater good than being loved. On a higher plane, the ability to be trusted by others requires that we be knowledgeable and well-informed. Only then can we humans be trusted to govern ourselves.

15. We will care for the earth because we have dominion, but not control, over it. This means that we have neither the moral right nor the technical ability to exercise complete regulation and exploitation of this planet. As the dominant sentient beings, we have the responsibility to guard, protect, and serve as stewards of the earth.

16. We will keep our own council. This means that we should be discreet, careful, and circumspect in what we say concerning our own thoughts, deeds, or situations. Also, this extends to mean that we should keep the appropriate secrets of others in confidence.

17. We will speak positively of others because negative attitudes and conversations act like diseases that devour the essence of being in others and in ourselves. When directed within a group, positive-speak helps to unite while negative-speak alienates and destroys.

18. We will keep our emotions balanced because they play key roles in achieving happiness, success, and lasting relationships. Medical science tells us that people who age best are those who have positive feelings and who experience positive actions in their lives. Our ability to remain emotionally intelligent and to keep our nervous systems in balance ensures that our immune and other systems can preserve and repair our bodies.

19. We will be trustful in our relationships because trust is the foundation for building strong bonds. Research suggests that trust serves as an essential ingredient in any healthy relationship, one that is defined by honesty and dependability.

20. We will hold purity in high esteem in order to regard it with respect and to think well of what frees us from anything that debases or pollutes us, or our environment. Within ourselves, purity suggests a freedom from guilt, evil, or inappropriate elements that may contaminate our lives.

21. We will spread joy because of its message. Joy fills the hearts of all who encounter it. A smile, a kind word, or the smallest act of caring has the ability to turn around a life. Furthermore, joy creates a cycle of good will that emanates and touches many lives.

The Twenty-Second through Forty-Second Ideals of Ma'at

22. We will do the best that we can because achievement demands focus, preparation, and continued determination. In his book "Leviathan," 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that a political state could be a monarchy, an oligarchy, or a democracy. However, its unity is not affected by its political character. Unity remains a matter of transparency. This means that we need to be willing to invite others and to let them in.

23. We will communicate with compassion. Compassionate communication helps to create vibrant relationships based on respect and good will. By speaking honestly, we transform criticism and blame into understanding. When we break patterns of thinking that lead us to anger and depression, we can resolve conflicts peacefully.

24. We will listen to opposing opinions. Generally, an opinion is a judgment, viewpoint, or statement about subjective matters. An opinion supported by facts becomes an argument, although different individuals may draw opposing opinions from the same set of facts. However, we can recognize that one opinion is better supported by the facts than another by an analysis of the supporting arguments. Therefore, we may define collective or professional opinions as those meeting a higher standard to substantiate the opinion.

25. We will create harmony. American fantasy novelist Laini Taylor says, "Peace is more than the absence of war. Peace is accord-harmony" ( Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi states in his book "Women and Social Injustice" (Navajivan Publishing, 1945) that we should always "aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed" because by purifying our thoughts, everything will be well. Finally, Anglo-American philosopher Alan W. Watts tells us in his book "Beyond Theology: The Art of Godsmanship" (Vintage, 1973), "Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence."

26. We will invoke laughter. American philosopher John Morreall believes that the first human laughter may have begun as a gesture of shared relief at the passing of danger. In addition, laughter may indicate trust in our companions since the relaxation resulting from laughter inhibits the biological fight-or-flight response. Finally, laughter diminishes or eliminates the suffering that we may experience from a traumatic loss. Laughter increases our likelihood for making our way through a trauma; thereby, we flourish once again.

27. We will be open to love in various forms. This includes love that embodies sexual desire and passion as well as the dangerous, fiery, and irrational form of love. Far more, we may value the love that is the sacrificing friendship developed between brothers in arms who have fought side by side on the battlefield. This parallels the kind of love embodied between parents and their children in the desire to save the other from harm. Furthermore, we strive for selfless love, the one that we extend to all people from patience and caring as well as for deep understanding of family members and charity to distant strangers. If we like and feel secure in ourselves, we have greater compassion for others.

28. We will be forgiving. Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense. The act of forgiveness requires that we let go of negative emotions such as vengefulness and develop the increased ability to wish the offender well. In contrast, our refusal to forgive does not empower us. Rather, it enslaves us. Very rarely does feeling contempt for others make a significant difference in their lives.

29. We will be kind. Kindness is an attractor by which others seek us out. However, in order to be kind, we need to pay attention to what is happening around us. When we show kindness to others, it makes them happy. As a result, the more that we can give kindness to others, the more that happiness will be in our lives.

30. We will act respectfully to others. When we treat everyone whom we encounter with respect and courtesy, we help to keep society running smoothly. Good manners serve as a way to be respectful of the space and time of others. This means being respectful to everyone, not only the people whom we know or those whom we perceive as having a higher status than we do. This act includes being respectful to people who are different from us, even if we do not understand them very well.

31. We will be accepting. This requires that we be cognizant of the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition without attempting to change it or protest it. We acquiesce to it and find rest within it. Acceptance includes a positive welcome and belonging as well as favor and endorsement. This acceptance also can be the act of believing or assenting. Self-acceptance involves loving ourselves and being happy with the person we are now. It becomes an inner agreement to accept, appreciate, validate, and support who we are in the moment.

32. We will follow our inner guidance. When we begin to feel lost or confused, we instinctively search for direction. Rather than relying on someone else to show us our way, we can choose to look within in order to find the answers. In order to accomplish this, we turn to our inner self, creating a harmonious forum. In this space, our inner ­guidance flourishes. Within this place, we can listen for wisdom without judgment and without the need to ask others for help.

33. We will converse with awareness. In our modern society of uber-achievers, we tend to fall into the trap of believing that working harder will help us to move forward and upward. However, hard work only can take us so far. If we fail to emphasize the development of our awareness of self and those around us, we cannot leverage our previously untapped personal qualities. This means that in order to converse with awareness, we need to develop empathy.

34. We will "do good." In doing so, many of us find that "doing good" is more complicated than just being compassionate. It involves doing kind or helpful things that support other people. Ultimately, we each need to develop our own code of ethics. From this, it matters that we follow through with these beliefs, not just our dedication to a specific ideology or set of rules.

35. We will give blessings. Bestowment of these is to infuse someone or something with divine will, holiness, or whatever we consider that universal consciousness to be. Therefore, blessings come from or are directly associated with what we experience as deity. Expression of a blessing is the bestowment of a wish on someone so that they will experience the goodness that flows from the Cosmic All.

36. We will keep the waters pure (literally in California; Flint, Michigan; and a multitude of other places around the world). Metaphorically, this ideal carries a higher meaning for many of us. In a letter to Marquis de la Fayette, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure" ("The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition," The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904).

37. We will speak with good intent. Though we live in a communication-saturated world, very little of the communication that we experience actually is effective. The majority of messages that we send are misinterpreted, misunderstood, or simply disregarded. To be an effective human being requires effective communication to and from us. Speaking more merely adds to the clutter. When we speak less, but with good intent, we often find that our words have a greater impact.

38. We will praise the deity. Whatever we may perceive the deity to be, praising him, her, or it simply provides recognition of The All that resides in us and beyond us. We experience this life within bounded time and space. We might ask, "How small is this point of life within the unbounded eternity and infinity?" The end result is the exaltation of this Cosmic All of creation of which we are a part.

39. We will be humble. As a small point of light within The All, humility may be the most difficult virtue for us to develop because we may fear it at the same time that we seek it. However, when we avoid taking credit for an accomplishment, when we praise others, help them to succeed, learn from them, and admit our own mistakes, we move closer to this ideal. The only way to be humble is to be humbled. So, when we go last and serve someone else, we are humbled and put on the path to humility.

40. We will achieve with integrity. We do this because integrity is the integration of self, the maintenance of identity, and standing for something. Integrity is moral purpose and a virtue. Our individual value systems provide us with frameworks within which we act in a manner that is consistent and expected. As a concept, integrity implies wholeness, a comprehensive worldview that emphasizes authenticity and honesty while requiring that we act always in accord with our chosen viewpoint.

41. We will advance through our own abilities. Periodically throughout life, it is normal for us to contemplate our accomplishments and to develop our integrity. We do the latter if we view our life up to that time as successful. However, if we view our life as unproductive or feel unaccomplished in important goals, we may develop dissatisfaction with life, creating a sense of despair that can lead to depression and hopelessness. Our final developmental task in life is retrospection--we look back on our lives and accomplishments. Those passing away (from time-space to eternity-infinity) often tell us that we develop feelings of contentment and integrity during this passage if we believe in the end that we have led a good and productive life. It is well known by doctors, nurses, and other witnesses at deathbeds.

42. We will embrace The All. When troubled, looking up at the universe on a starry night can bring our struggles into perspective by making us aware of the "big picture" of life. By embracing The All, we accept The All, The One, The Absolute, The Creator, The Deity, The Great Spirit, The Supreme Mind, The Ultimate Good, The Cosmic Father, The Universal Mother (or other words of recognition) enthusiastically. One Hermetic maxim states, "While All is in The All, it is equally true that The All is in All." From most of us with whom I (Dr. Sase) have discussed this matter over the decades, we seem to consider The All as more complex than simply the sum total of the universe. Perhaps we can say that everything that is the universe rests within the ******* (choose your own best term) of The All. Any effort to further this discussion would more than fill the pages of this newspaper.

In Conclusion

These forty-two ideals can serve as a starting point for us to develop our own modern unifying code for living. To these, we easily can add another twenty-four points, at least. Since our greatest asset in Detroit and Southeast Michigan-and probably the world itself--may be our cultural diversity, it would be wise for us to study the Ideals of Ma'at and other early tenets for a successful life. Since both Economics and Law are based within the context of such teachings, it would behoove attorneys, economists and other professionals to adapt the behaviors that are outlined in these ancient works, both for professional growth and the evolution of society as a whole.


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Dr. John F. Sase has taught Economics for thirty-five years and has practiced Forensic and Investigative Economics since the early 1990s. He earned an M.A. in Economics and an MBA at the University of Detroit and a Ph.D. in Economics at Wayne State University. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Dr. Sase can be reached at 248-569-5228 and at

Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a supervisory editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for over twenty years. Currently, he edits books for publication and gives seminars on writing and music. Senick can be reached at 313-342-4048 and at You can find some of his writing tips at

Julie G. Sase is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. She earned her degree in English at Marygrove College and her graduate certificate in Parent Coaching from Seattle Pacific University. As a consultant, Ms. Sase coaches clients, writes articles for publication, and gives interviews to various media. Ms. Sase can be reached at and

Published: Wed, Feb 17, 2016


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