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Ethical Wisdom for Friends: How to Navigate Life's Most Complicated, Curious, and Common Relationship Dilemmas Paperback – June 4, 2013

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Ethical Wisdom for Friends: How to Navigate Life's Most Complicated, Curious, and Common Relationship Dilemmas + Ethical Wisdom: The Search for a Moral Life
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HCI; 1 edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0757317278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0757317279
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,707,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Mark Matousek is the author of two award-winning memoirs, Sex Death Enlightenment: A True Story (an international bestseller) and The Boy He Left Behind: A Man's Search For His Lost Father (Los Angeles Times Discovery Book), as well as When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living. A featured blogger for Psychology Today (where his "Ethical Wisdom" column appears weekly), and the Huffington Post, he has contributed to numerous publications including The New Yorker, O: The Oprah Magazine (where he was contributing editor), The New York Times Magazine, Harper's Bazaar, Yoga Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Details, AARP, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review (contributing editor), and many others.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Recently, I opened my mailbox to find a letter from a concerned reader in Duluth, Minnesota. 'Dear Sir: I just finished reading your book Ethical Wisdom: The Search for a Moral Life and wanted to send you a word of warning.'

I steeled myself to be reprimanded for some factual error or political incorrectness, but this thirty-four-year-old attorney (and mother of two) had another agenda. 'There's a saying in AA that understanding is the booby prize,' she wrote.

'While I learned a lot from your book about what makes us moral, I knew zilch about how to put this stuff into practice. It's great to know that mirror neurons cause empathy—that blew my mind—but how does that help me make better choices? What difference does this knowledge make? If you ever write a book called 'Ethical Wisdom for Internet Dating,' or something like that, be sure to keep me on your list.'

The lawyer from Minnesota was right. I had wanted to give lay readers like myself, a memoir writer by trade, an entertaining, un-PC map of how and why humans are hardwired for moral awareness, a bird's-eye view from a variety of sources: neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, philosophy, and behavioral economics. Thanks to breakthroughs with the fMRI machine, we are reaching a level of self-transparency beyond our wildest imaginings. We now understand that the brain is hardwired with a kind of moral organ—a matrix of ­faculties—that gear us toward ethical intelligence.

Researching the book, I learned things that permanently changed how I understood myself and the world. But I had not permitted myself to be prescriptive. I had not drawn conclusions or addressed specific groups of people with specific complications in their lives. Internet dating. Parents. Business. Office life. Lovers. My aerial view of the human condition had never quite put readers on the ground in any accessible, practical way. Ethical Wisdom was addressed at humans. But human beings were people, too, with complicated lives to sort out.

I've put together this collection of people stories from a variety of sources. Personal experience, student testimonials, interviews, and letters from readers provided a reservoir rich in wisdom about friendship, commitment, honesty, greed, jealousy, loyalty, competition, imitation, abandonment, and reconciliation. My hope is that these stories become good companions to you on your journey. 

To Gossip Is Human

The most painful breakup of my life came when my four best friends dumped me, simultaneously, over an incident involving gossip. I meant no harm by my slip of the tongue to this mutual friend who, I assumed, knew this tidbit already. Still, I became persona non grata, the not-to-be-trusted, the blabbermouth, and, finally, the exile. They shut me out of their lives overnight, sending me into a year of therapy where I questioned my worth as a human being and someone to whom others might risk telling secrets.

The hardest part of this situation was the certainty that I meant no harm. The second-hardest part was knowing what gossip hounds each of these ex-friends was, too, and how much we'd enjoyed comparing notes, every single one of us, for years with one another. How had this suddenly become such a sin? In fact, it was the nature of the gossip—our mutual friend's infidelity—and the guilt she felt over it that had been sidetracked as blame onto me. But knowing this didn't give me my friends back.

'They shot the messenger,' said my therapist. He explained that when guilt exists in a group, somebody's head's got to roll in order to ease the collective conscience. Consumed by the need for justice—accepted or not—I decided to try to understand gossip: what it is, where it comes from, and why human beings enjoy it so much. According to anthropologists, gossip has been integral to the survival of our species. In fact, human language developed specifically to enable us to gossip. Since the time of early man, our ancestors have used gossip as a social controlling device to keep each other in line. At first, language had evolved as a replacement for physical grooming. The leap from picking each others' lice to biting each others' backs seems to have come naturally to our nosy species. Since then, gossip has been an indispensable method for policing one another, helping us to monitor good and evil as well as prevent physical conflict. That's because gossip is our first line of defense before violence in the exertion of social control. Before we punch someone in the face, or torch his house, we can always ruin his reputation.

Humans use language primarily to talk about other people, to find out who's doing what, who's sleeping with so-and-so's husband, who cheated whom, who behaved heroically, or who caved in. By definition, gossip tends to be overwhelmingly critical, concerned primarily with moral and social violations. This is because individuals who were able to share information had an advantage in human evolution. Our ancestors surmised that, in a gossipy world, what we do matters less than what people think we do, so we'd better be able to frame our actions in a positive light.

'As ultrasocial creatures, we're also ultra-manipulators, fabricators, and competitors for the driver's seat,' I wrote in Ethical Wisdom. Gossip created 'a runaway competition in who could be master of the art of social manipulation, relationship aggression, and reputation management' in human society, as E. O. Wilson tells us. We also learned to prepare ourselves for other people's attempts to deceive, compete against, and manipulate us. A good reputation is social collateral, and gossip is key to how we protect it. As a moral controlling device, it allows us to save face and cast aspersions on others. We are not autonomously moral beings, after all. The more closely people live together, the more they care; the more they care, the more they gossip; and the more they gossip, the more language can serve its ethical function. 'Gossip paired with reciprocity allows karma to work here on earth, not in the next life,' psychologist Jonathan Haidt has quipped. In other words, gossip is natural, human, and indispensable. The important thing is to be aware of when, how, and with whom you gossip. Information is power, after all. We say things innocently that have a potential to wreck people's lives. Gossip should not be indulged in every time we feel like it any more than other natural functions are carried out indiscriminately. It means simply that gossip is natural, and that our urge to share personal information (particularly regarding those who matter to us most) has a long historic precedent and a positive social value when exercised skillfully. In the teachings of the Buddha, there are three helpful criteria for determining when to open our mouths. Before spilling the beans, or airing a grievance, Buddhism teaches us to ask ourselves these three questions in testing personal motivation. First, is the information true? Second, is sharing the information necessary? Finally, is the act of revelation kind? For friends, kindness is the bottom line; if information does not serve a caring function, we're wise to keep it to ourselves.

 ©2013. Mark Matousek. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Ethical Wisdom for Friends: How to Navigate Life's Most Complicated, Curious, and Common Relationship Dilemmas. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.


More About the Author

I was born in Los Angeles on February 5, 1957, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1979, and received a fellowship to Worcester College, Oxford, the following year, with an M.A. in English Literature from the UCLA in 1981.

After graduation, I moved to New York, where I worked as a stringer for Reuters, International, then in Newsweek Magazine's letter department, before being hired as a proofreader at Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine. I was the magazine's first staff writer, and became senior editor the following year, conducting hundreds of interviews with figures well known in film, television, books, fine art, politics, design and science. In 1985, I quit my job and spent most of following decade as an itinerant dharma bum and freelance journalist, traveling between Europe, India, and the United States. Shifting professional gears from pop culture to psychology, philosophy and religion, I was a contributing editor to Common Boundary Magazine, where my back page column, The Naked Eye, appeared from 1994-1999. I received a National Magazine Award nomination for "America's Darkest Secret" (about the epidemic of incest in the U.S.) and published essays in numerous magazines, including The New Yorker, Details, O: The Oprah Magazine, Tricycle, The Utne Reader, AARP Magazine, Out, Good Housekeeping, and Harper's Bazaar.

After working with Sogyal Rimpoche on The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, I collaborated with religious writer Andrew Harvey on Dialogues With A Modern Mystic (interviewing Harvey for Britain's Channel One documentary of the same name). My first book, Sex Death Enlightenment: A True Story (1996) became an international bestseller published in ten countries and nominated for two Books for a Better Life Awards. Having served as co-editor on Ram Dass's book, Still Here, I published my second memoir in 2000, The Boy He Left Behind: A Man's Search for His Lost Father (Los Angeles Times Discovery Book, Randy Shilts Award, excerpted in the Sunday supplement of the London Guardian). I've taught creative non-fiction writing at Manhattanville College and published essays in numerous anthologies, including Wrestling With the Angel, Voices of the Millenium, A Memory, A Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer, Oprah's Best Life. I am also a contributing editor to O: The Oprah Magazine, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and a frequent blogger for The Huffington Post. My most recent book is When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living (2008). Also, I'm collaborating with Eve Ensler as the Creative Director of V-Men (the male arm of VDay, Ensler's organization for ending violence against women and girls) and curate their online essay series ( Currently, I am at work on a performance piece called "Ten Ways To Be a Man," which will serve as V-Men's artistic vehicle and will premier in September, 2011.
Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good is available now.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By languagelover on September 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this book after downloading a sample on my Kindle. Matousek's description of friendship as a dance between intimacy and distance intrigued me. Unfortunately, it was all downhill after that. Most of his "wisdom" seemed obvious -- even naiive. I imagined that the author was probably quite young, and on that basis, gave him the benefit of the doubt. Then I read that he was born in 1957! At that age, what he calls wisdom, to me seems shallow folly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marianne on August 31, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love Mark's book because they are well written and so insightful. I loved it so much I gave it as a gift to my best friend on his birthday!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Florence on June 29, 2013
Format: Paperback
Ethical Wisdom for Friends: How to Navigate Life's Most Complicated, Curious, and Common Relationship Dilemmas

Is there one among us who knows how to navigate effortlessly through the ups and downs of all our relationships? Mark Matousek's Ethical Wisdom for Friends is an eloquent, compelling, and essential primer to guide us through some of the more difficult patches we will inevitably encounter with friends, lovers, or fellow workers. When it comes to making the right choices, we all need lessons in prudence, discernment, empathy, patience, and humor. Mark Matousek is the perfect teacher--wise without being sentimental, condescending, or judgmental--he is first and foremost compassionately 'ethical.'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gwenyth Jackaway, Ph.D. on June 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
In Ethical Wisdom for Friends, Mark Matousek achieves the elusive goal of bridging theory and practice. In his unique style of blending some of the latest findings from cutting edge research in a variety of disciplines with deeply personal stories, Matousek helps us to see the practical application of academic advances in understanding about human behavior. In this well conceived and natural extension of the marvelous groundwork he laid in "Ethical Wisdom: The Search for a Moral Life", he shines a light on the ethical dimensions of our day to day interactions with some of our closest intimates: our friends. It never fails to amaze me, in reading Matousek's work, how our most personal and seemingly unique relational dilemmas are in fact so universal, and how much understanding we can gain into our own idiosyncratic stories from studying the larger, predictable patterns in human relationships. "Ethical Wisdom for Friends" helps us to make sense of some of the most common, tricky dilemmas that come up between people, from gossip and jealousy to trust and commitment. I gulped this book down in a handful of hours, and came away with new insights into my own friendship patterns, and the choices I've made over the years. This marvelous little book has helped me to begin to make peace at last with issues that I've long found challenging. Anyone who has ever had an important friendship and struggled to make sense of what it means to 'do the right thing' in a complex situation will recognize themselves in these pages. Thank you, Mark Matousek, for this marvelous handbook on successfully navigating the deep waters of friendship!
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is just a collection of short "people" stories that end with a few questions about things like envy or how you feel about other people's business or other people's kids or a variety of situations. It basically has the author's feelings about how you should relate to other people. The author is a writer, not a psychiatrist or psychologist and the book is just stories and his thoughts and questions. It is not a self-help book or advice from an expert. It is simple and easy to read. I received this book free from Netgalley
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