Going Gray

>> Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When if comes to morals, I'm pretty hard to pigeonhole. On the one hand, I'm among the most rigidly moral people I know. Not just rigidly moral in that I have a strong opinion on what is and isn't right or wrong, but I actually live within that sense of right and wrong. If I slip on something minor, I take responsibility and atone (it doesn't happen much). Always. No exceptions. I believe, if I do something inexcusable to my set of moral values, I'd either turn myself into the cops or kill myself. I don't know, for sure. It hasn't come up yet. The right and wrong I'm talking about are moral limits I impose on myself to better myself and to make sure I can live with myself. They are not imposed by anyone other than myself. More on that later.

On the other hand, I do not impose my own set of morals on anyone else (with a very few notable exceptions). I do not expect others to behave like I do or see things as right or wrong the same way I do. Nor do I assume someone is amoral or immoral if his values are far different than mine or flexible. I do not make judgement calls on someone else's moral values under most circumstances. I'm also well aware that there are circumstances where people would do things that they would normally never do without violating their moral values (caveats built in). I have some of those, too.

Note also that my moral values don't map nicely to many people's, even most people's. I don't pretend they do. It's one reason I'm not a member of any organized religion. I don't necessarily see the same rights/wrongs they do and I'm not willing to compromise my own values. Not so much because I allow things they don't, ironically enough. Far more often the other way around.

There are things that are accepted by one society (or all of them) that I consider wrong or immoral. I make an effort not to judge the individuals involved, but I will also be vocal in my opinion that it's wrong (and frequently other things like stupid or short sighted, etc.). And I won't do that particular thing even if "everyone" is.

So, what I'm saying is that I'm both rigidly moral and morally flexible at one and the same time without conflict because I don't base right and wrong strictly on the act, but also the circumstances and I don't assume morality is absolute from person to person. In fact, I'm pretty sure morality isn't the same from person to person, even people who have the same religion, grew up in the same culture, or siblings in the same family.

I do consider someone immoral if they have moral values they don't apply to themselves (often hoping not to get caught or because they don't recognize the implication of their own action). I also find it sadly ironic that these same individuals are also the people most likely to want to impose their moral values on other people. I also think someone is amoral if there is nothing they wouldn't do to suit themselves.

I also believe there are certain activities society (in the form of laws) must outlaw for the greater good, even if there are circumstances that might make such activities justifiable (which is why I think jury trials are still reasonable). However, I generally only think this should apply people hurting one or more other people (stealing, cheating, beating, raping, killing, etc.) rather than people making decisions for themselves (drug use, suicide, lifestyle choice, etc.).

Why am I even talking about this? A couple of reasons. One, I'm called upon, once in a while, to deliver a judgement value on some current event. Generally, I refrain from doing so, particularly if I'm not acquainted with an unsensationalized version of the factors involved. For instance, dramatic criminal trials are often covered by the media, but usually only the most inflammatory "facts" show up in mass media with any number of mitigating factors left undisclosed. To base a judgement on that set of data would be, in my opinion, premature. I, at least, won't do so. There are a few cases, often involving confession, where I will offer an opinion, such as the Netherlands father who imprisoned his own daughter, raped her repeatedly, and effectively killed their children. Yes, I think he's a monster. I cannot, however, make an effective value judgement regarding his wife. I don't know the circumstances well enough.

Secondly, this is an important thing to understand when it comes to writing characters. Protagonists in any number of books can do a number of things generally considered "wrong" without violating their moral code (or even having readers object). Circumstancial conditions, you see. But readers are far more accepting of this if it's not hypocrisy, so the writer needs to be aware of the moral values of the character and the reasons why the character is violating them (if she is). In my case, I frequently have at least one character who shares my own values. I frequently have one that has the ambiguous values my husband has. It's interesting to contrast them. This understanding also helps me as a reader because things that could be black/white to someone else, I can sympathize with and accept if I understand the circumstances.

Thirdly, well, I have come to the opinion that many people are far too quick to rush to judgement without seeing the whole story or making broad-based assertions that really haven't been thought through. I think it helps with understanding the limitations available in laws (which must address the needs of large communities of people of varying moral values and can't really address gray areas without being utterly diffused) and the enforcement of said laws.

If I feel like it later, I might discuss some examples of what I'm talking about. If anyone expresses interest.


  • Shakespeare

    I'm not sure I could judge another's beliefs as "immoral." I've studied too many societies where life is simply seen differently. They act different because they believe differently, yet they still act as they believe they should.

    Amoralism is different. When expediency and selfishness outweigh what someone knows to be right--or when someone simply has no sense that anything can be wrong--that's very hard for me to deal with. I just don't work that way.

  • Relax Max

    I think your are just fine. It's your sense of humor that you need to work on. Buy some balloons and lighten up.

    Would you consider rewriting this in one paragraph, leaving out all the weasel words and say what it is that's got you morally confounded this time? I would love to comment, even engage you, but you simply refuse to come out with any specific raw meat to chew on.

    What exactly are you putting forward here? You are running in circles too fast this time for me to catch up with. Pick something and attack it or defend it.

    The new RM never leaves a comment without saying something nice, so let me tell you how much I admired the breadth of your moral value statement.

  • Relax Max

    Let's see if we at least agree on the basic premise here: by "morals" you mean a personal belief system that a given person has with regards to that person's belief of what is right and wrong, good or bad, acceptable behavior or not acceptable behavior. Right? And you believe that this can vary from one person to another. And you believe you are not the one to be judging others' morals? I think you said that, but since dictionary definitions haven't fazed you in the past, I just wanted to make sure before I continue and make a fool of myself.

    Not wanting to do battle on your terms. Wary. :)

  • Jeff King

    I am interested…

  • Stephanie Barr

    "Right? And you believe that this can vary from one person to another. And you believe you are not the one to be judging others' morals? I think you said that, but since dictionary definitions haven't fazed you in the past, I just wanted to make sure before I continue and make a fool of myself."


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