There’s a funny Monty Python sketch called about the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, a group of people who like to . . . put stuff on top of other stuff.
Well, I think it’s funny. Your mileage may vary.
Anyway, this ridiculous sketch got me thinking about our own society, which is quite the opposite.
We hate putting things on top of other things.
I don’t mean that in the literal sense. Our big problem is that we don’t judge. We don’t like to see anything as objectively good or bad, right or wrong. It makes us squeamish. It’s icky.
A part of this goes back to Americans’ fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of equality: In addition to believing that “equality” means “equality of outcomes,” may of us also think it means that every single thing–ideology, action, belief–has identical worth. This is called “relativism,” also known as “bullshit.”
Americans seem paralyzed when it comes time to make any kind of value judgment, whether it’s ridiculous attempts to excuse Islamic terrorism by referencing “The Crusades!” or trying to justify and normalize pedophilia and incest as just being different, equally valid kinds of love as any other.
This is insanity, and, like they say in the Monty Python sketch, silly.
America needs to be a Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.
What got me thinking about this? Waking up and looking at the world around me:
- More black men being shot by the police where both sides jump to conclusions without knowing the facts but riot anyway.
- More discussions about what is an appropriate form of protest at football games, of all things.
And so on.
You could say that we do put some things above others. We value certain nationalities, or certain races, or certain professionals. And that is, of course, true.
But we’re so loathe to make any sort of value judgments, such as:
- If you murder people, regardless of why, it should be deemed wrong.
- If you are shot by the police for a valid reason, your skin color should not make it any less right or wrong.
- If you are a police officer and you shoot someone for a reason that is not valid, you shouldn’t get to hide behind the “Blue Wall” and you should be punished, even though you’re a police officer.
- If you want to protest the National Anthem, that’s fine. If you disagree with that, that’s also fine. Some things can be morally equal (I don’t consider standing for a colored cloth a “moral” obligation).
If you are afraid to put things on top of other things, the whole thing is going to fall down.
The timing of everything makes one think as well, especially with arguably the most important election in the last 50 years looming.
I’m a Christian, so I tend to both be irrationally optimistic while also seeing the handiwork of the devil at play. And I know that the sheer force of my own niceness won’t change a damn thing. But if you, too, are feeling disoriented yet know that all of the magical thinking in the world doesn’t matter, here’s what I’ve been doing to try to maintain some degree of sanity and hope. Maybe it will work for you, too, whatever your religion (if any).
- Pray. Pray regularly. Pray throughout the day. When you pray, don’t pray for stuff or for God to make things happen for you. Pray for peace in the world and peace in your soul. Pray for clarity. Pray for optimism. Pray for patience. Pray you don’t become bitter and hateful. Pray to understand what is going on and why. And if you’re not religious, do what it is that helps you find focus: Meditation, going for a walk, just sitting and thinking. Inner time can be an incredible antidote to the outside world, which wants to turn you bitter.
- Be self-aware. Everything that you think is right will be viewed as wrong to somebody else, even if what you think is objectively right. You are also prone to hypocrisy and hyperbole and other words beginning with “hy,” just like everybody else. Recognize this and act accordingly.
- Get in the mix, but recognize some people will never agree with you. In times like these, I think more dialogue is needed, not less. I recommend against silencing yourself and talking about these touchy subjects (respectfully, of course). When getting into it, you should first understand the purpose of the discussion, and what the other side‘s position is. That said, if the discussion is going nowhere, that’s fine. Disengage, say thank you, and move on. You will never change most people’s minds.
- Forgive other people. This sounds corny as hell, but . . . trust me.
- You might be wrong. And if you are? Act accordingly. Life is about trade-offs. There is nothing shameful about changing course in light of new information or an increased understanding. And you might be forced to make the least-bad decision as opposed to the objectively best one. Go where the facts lead you, your morals guide you, and your objective set of standards be a measuring stick.
- Do not be afraid to put some things on top of other things. These days, this takes bravery. But know that moral relativism and double standards are absolute garbage and are in large part what is tearing American society apart. Some things are more good than others. As long as you can articulate this and measure it against an objective standard, you should do so. Now, some people’s objective standards are different, and that is where fundamental, irreconcilable differences come into play (freedom versus totalitarianism, Christianity versus Islam, religion versus atheism, Red Sox versus Yankees, and so on). These irreconcilable differences will probably never leave us, but that doesn’t mean you should be cowed into believing things that go against what you know is true.
At the end of the day, the only person you can change is yourself. I’m going to get preachy here, but it’s my blog:
If we spent more time changing ourselves instead of trying to change other people, we’d have an easier time convincing other people that we are, in fact, on to something.
Anyway, I continue to be cynically optimistic that things will work themselves out eventually. In the meantime, there’s always Monty Python to make me laugh.
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