“There are precious few at ease / with moral ambiguities /so we pretend they don’t exist.” From the musical Wicked, with lyrics by Stephen Swartz
Insisting doesn’t make it so. You strongly believe in something. You want people to comply with your wishes, but no one will join you. What do you do?
To win an argument, you try to discover what your audience will respond to. You base your arguments around what they find persuasive. But they sense the tone of our insistence. They still don’t join. You seem too invested. So, now what do you do?
Responsively, you offer them series of potential options, being careful to include only the ones that feel right to you. They are not persuaded. Your bargaining feels less than genuine. They ask you: “Why can’t you accept what we want?”
You sift through your evidence, first-hand experience, third-person anecdotes, remembered opinions from experts. Their question seems intended to throw you off. Of course you cannot agree – that would be self-betrayal. You believe your evidence. Plenty of others – THEY believe your evidence. There’s safety in numbers – you don’t feel alone on this. But, you have this nagging doubt. You consider yourself credible, competent and trustworthy – shouldn’t that count for something? It all comes back to the uniqueness that you feel. Being consistent with that. You have a feeling of certainty about this. Your position has validity; it is informed and real. But still you’re not sure.
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Sound familiar? When evaluating matters of conscience we push ourselves to very edge of our interpretations. We try to see what holds up and what frays under scrutiny. We’ve all read various “moral” dilemmas that ask us to confront any number of sticky situations:
Your best friend is getting married in ONE hour. You discover the soon-to-be-spouse has had an affair. You have concrete evidence to prove their guilt. So, do you tell your best friend and ruin their big day? Or do you say nothing?
This type of question opens chasms of doubt and insecurity. Socially, we try to control the impact we have — knowing that there are reciprocal dependencies — but interpretive “truth” makes it difficult (or impossible) to simply walk away. Getting along is easier than obstructing, and denial seems reasonable given that it’s not your life anyway. So what’s your “judgment” call going to be?
The interesting thing about the mirror (as a root metaphor for moral conscience) is that it demonstrates two things:
1. Reciprocity – a mirror image is a reciprocating image; it follows us and does whatever we do, and
2. Social veracity – a mirror image is an interpretive one; AND it begs us to question not only our interpretation, but also the social veracity of our interpretation as well. We judge ourselves and others based on the social veracity of our interpretations.
As you might guess social veracity is very hard to find. The social reflecting pool is colored with an awful lot of opinions and positions and they there all charged with reciprocity – What happens to me? What happens to others? So we are never completely alone in our decisions. AND we are absolutely alone. Our conscience cannot be co-opted or given out to others without our consent.
So, what’s interesting about the dynamic between insistence and acceptance is both a personal decision and a social one. To be mindful and present in the moment means that we must question our original assumptions. To “choose, respond, and change” means the interpretation can be either — “made up” or “real,” social or personal, solely for our benefit or for the benefit of others. We get to choose. No wonder we are so ill at ease with moral ambiguities we pretend they don’t exist.
Thanks for listening.