Bertrand Russell said “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
If this is a true statement, I must be borderline genius given my consistent grapple with uncertainty. Choices that confront us are so easy when we have to choose between right and wrong. If we are of sound mind and moral character, we know the difference between the extremes because social norms and the laws of our land help us to distinguish them.
It’s the complexities that life presents us when we are at a proverbial crossroads of “two rights”. These situations arise when we look closer at a complex problem and determine that many different variables exist that distort the “right versus wrong” formula.
Even the mother of all commandments is subject to some gray area. “Thou shalt not kill” seems pretty clear at face value. For some, no ideological or political conviction would justify the sacrifice of a human life. The value of life is absolute, with no concessions. It’s not negotiable.
For others, it’s merely a guideline with a magnitude of exemptions.
“Thou shalt not kill.”*
*unless someone makes you angry, they are a rival gang member or they have different beliefs, etc.
The bloodshed in our cities is evidence that this barbaric mindset exists. Because we are a democracy that follows the rule of law, there are consequences for taking the life of another so one must be willing to capitulate to that punishment.
But there are other exemptions for the taking of a human life that fall within the parameters of legality. If one is provoked to a point where they have to defend their own life or the life of someone else, it is acceptable to kill.
If even the greatest of all commandments has some gray area, suffice it to say that the lessor-important things in life do as well.
To traverse through the gray areas, we need a clear line of site to purpose and morality because when we don’t align to our ethical “truth north”, there is no visible path. When there is no path, we lose our way.
Think of the magnitude of this concept. Religious people have a guidebook to follow (the Bible, Torah, Quran, Buddhist Sutras, ect). In these books, it clearly stipulates the path you should follow. If eternal salvation is the end it mind, one of these books will get you there.
What keeps the non-believers from committing atrocities? How on earth are human beings expected to behave if the notion of a burning inferno isn’t constantly fearing them into behaving properly? Even religion isn’t foolproof since so many have been killed in the name of it.
Perhaps it is the rule of law and the fear of losing our basic fundamental right of freedom that keeps social order. I secretly wonder what kind of hullabaloo would ensue if people succumbed to their own instinctual desires without consequence.
Whether it’s religion or obedience to laws, we seem to have most of the bases covered when it comes knowing what is acceptable and what is not. And yet we still commit atrocities against one another in love and war and all things in-between.
I guess life is just that – a vast quantity of gray area for which we have to navigate. But maybe if we try and do as much of that navigating with the right end in mind, our paths would be more clear.
Maybe if we stopped being detoured by pettiness, hatred and revenge and spent more time seeing the value of other human beings, the natural consequence would be improved organizations and communities.
If religion and laws cannot keep us on the right path, seeing one another as living and breathing people rather than objects might do the trick. If we were able to see (really see) that people are made up of the same fears and hopes that we are, we might not be so quick to pull the trigger, steal from them, or bully them.
Given my propensity for uncertainly, I’m probably not correct about any of this.