On Ethics

Emine Ebru Arslan
4 minutes

My father, who came from a small town in Anatolia and found himself studying in Germany with a state scholarship, returned to his hometown after absorbing into his cells the German work discipline which bases its roots in the Protestant work ethic and he worked as a “white-collar” manager for years. He carried this ethic of self-sacrificing work, quality work and prioritizing work in life, which he believed was a simple form of asceticism for an honorable life, not only to the factories where he worked, but also to us.

He didn’t take vacations with us, he didn’t care about our privacy, he didn’t even bother to talk to us when he came home, but my father was a symbol of respect for us. He was hardworking and moral. When I was a child, “in my neighborhood” being moral was synonymous with honesty, hard work and halal earnings. When I think of morality, my first association has never been with a woman’s body in my world. After all, being a child in the 70s on one of the modest streets of Ethem Efendi Avenue in Erenköy required this for all of us. At that time, artisans would always put a little more product in the net than they were paid for, so as not to be unfair on the scales.

For me and my peers, right and left were directional concepts that we needed to know in order to hold a pencil and a fork, but for the neighboring older sister and brother studying at university, it was obviously something more. Because they were from the “left-wing”, they could not go to the market on the other side of Ethem Efendi, which was mostly dominated by the “right-wing”. So much so that it was up to the neighboring aunt to carry the heavy bags from the weekly neighborhood bazaar, despite the fact that she had grown up children of her own size.

The Turkey of that time would surely have talked about different issues and suffered differently, and I could not have known this much with my child mind. But I believed that to be young was to have ideals and to live for a purpose. I was a child of a neighborhood where no one said much about each other’s bodies, relationships or lives. The biggest marginal for us was Zeki Müren, who was forbidden to even appear on television at that time. Anyway, my parents liked him very much.

Then I grew up. I joined the crowds as a young man who, like most of the post-revolutionary children, was apolitical, trying to prepare himself for a career in the private sector, feeling privileged because of his diplomas but occasionally skidding in terms of his abilities and values. I wasn’t the only one who followed the mainstream and couldn’t find their ideals. Society was averaging everyone out.

The years have changed my behavior, my ideas and even my values. But some of the deepest things of childhood have remained constant. For me, morality has always been equal with being honest, hardworking and earning halal. My motto has been not to steal, not to pick, not to ask for more than what is rightfully due, and to try to fulfill my duties – like an artisan who puts a little too much on the scale – if possible with a little more than what is expected. Even if I made mistakes, the reference point was clear. My touchstone has been the truths that were mixed in my childhood bite.

In adulthood, our dowry becomes our childhood. Even a small sensitivity that we pass on to a child at home, at school, on the street, in social environments, where our love and care touches them, has the power to transform an adult in the future. Especially nowadays, when we feel the erosion in terms of business ethics very deeply and the concept of morality is discussed over women’s bodies, I hold on and hug my dowry even more.

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