I like a good argument. (You might have noticed.)
Probably my upbringing. We were encouraged to have opinions and to express them. Appropriately. A certain amount of heat was acceptable. Rudeness and disrespect were not. Because an integral part of an argument, I was taught, is to listen well and with an open mind and to avoid getting attached to being right, because you can be damn sure you won’t be right 100% of the time, and admitting you’re wrong when necessary is part of the process. What’s the point of arguing if you know no one is ever going to change their opinion about anything.
The other thing I learned, probably by osmosis, is that an opinion is an opinion: that there are very few absolutes once you get past ‘did you clean your teeth this morning’ (and ‘was your inauguration turnout bigger than Obama’s’) and into the realm of beliefs and moral and ethical standards.
There are laws, of course, to prevent society descending into chaos. And there are certain fundamentals – like honesty, personal responsibility, care and consideration for others – that I consider non-negotiable. But I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about that grey minefield of moral rectitude, not subject to proof one way or the other.
It seems to me that one of the hardest realities for us mere mortals to grasp is that there is no universal gold standard for right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical. It isn’t as if we all start from the same place with the same bunch of moral and ethical standards, cherry-pick the ones that suit us and go our merry way flouting the rest. It isn’t as if those who don’t conform to your standards are by definition bad. That would be easy: one set of standards, one basis for judgement. But it isn’t true. We all start from different places, even within the same family. We each have our own perception of social morality, influenced by our own cultural, social and personal experience, embraced with equal good faith by each one of us.
And who is to judge which of us is right or wrong?
Some people believe it’s them. Which is where I start to get really pissed off. With those so convinced of their moral superiority that they demand everyone believe as they believe, enforce their beliefs where possible and promise the unconvinced the fires of hell.
This to me is supreme arrogance. (And yes, it is only my opinion, but one you’ll find it hard to change.) I respect their belief absolutely. I respect the comfort and certainty it brings them. Perhaps I even envy it, who knows. But I do not respect the closed mind that seems to be mandatory to this particular group of believers. They are not the ultimate judges of good and evil, and it is vainglorious hubris to claim they are.
Doubt is good for the human soul. It forces us to think. It forces us to look beyond ourselves to other viewpoints and other possibilities. It teaches us to appreciate the diversity of good and honourable beliefs, their roots and their manifestations. It teaches us the diversity of goodness.
It also teaches us humility, which (again in my opinion) is one of the most important and least respected virtues, and not to be confused with humiliation. To be humble is not to feel inferior, but to recognise that however successful we may be, we are still essentially human and fallible, and therefore no ‘better’ than anyone else.
After all, we’ll all be dust and ashes in the end, won’t we.