I have recently had the revelation that I attach moral value to ideas or situations that do not require a moral judgement.
I have known for a long time that I was a rule follower and that I took that behavior to the most literal and extreme measure. I didn’t analyze why or question it, it just was who I was. I didn’t just follow the rules though, I believed that not following them was morally wrong and made a statement as to the kind of person I was. I was completely perplexed by people who claimed to be moral, but broke rules or laws. I had totally acquiesced my thinking to some made up set of standards that hang on the walls of every kindergarten room. My parents, the schools, the government told me what to think and how to act and I never questioned it. Not once did I say, is that true for me? Do I believe that? I did believe it, to my core, but it was not based on anything that came from me and it never occurred to me that I could reject their standards.
For me there is a long list of reasons why. I was in an abusive home. A very abusive home. My mother liked things a certain way. An EXACT way. She didn’t just say the hair brush goes there. It went in a specific direction at an exact angle and if I or my brother were off just millimeter the price to be paid was high. Unfortunately, my mother was an alcoholic so often times she would forget the angle she told me. Our conversations might look like this…
Mom- Why the hell did you put the brush there? How many god damn times have I told you that fucking brush doesn’t go there?
Me- But yesterday you said…
Mom-Don’t question me. Don’t ever fucking question me.
Followed by some kind of beating probably with that same brush.
Guess who learned very early not to question even if I knew the person was wrong? Guess who grew up hating cussing and violence?? Guess who craved peace and calm so much she just learned not to feel?
I didn’t have the luxury of being a rebellions teen. I didn’t get to explore in college and figure out what was real and what wasn’t. I was grown up by the time I was 10. I graduated high school a year early and went to college. I needed out of my house and I was committed to never returning. I was a college professor by the time I was 26. I was very focused and very serious. I did exactly what I was told because the consequences were to great for me not to.
For me morality was what I was told it was even though the people telling me clearly were not behaving in a moral fashion.
Much of the craziness that has shown up in these posts over the past year stem from me placing a moral value on my actions, actions that have no moral standard. I, for the first time, began to question what I thought I knew. When I realized that I had no idea what I believed to be right and wrong, I made a conscious and concerted effort to figure it out. I questioned everything and in that process I waivered. I might stand up to say a rude anonymous poster and then take it back when someone said I wasn’t being compassionate. I realized right away that I wasn’t sure if I should have stood up or not. I wasn’t looking for approval, I was honestly lost and anxious. The anxiety didn’t come from someone disagree with me; it came from my own sense of not knowing what I believed to be the right thing in that situation. The lack of foundation caused me to question, but I didn’t question my beliefs, I questioned my worth. I had placed a moral value on a non-moral situation.
In my awareness of my own tendencies, I have started to notice when other people attach moral arguments to their behaviors or that of others. My teenager is famous for this. She has what I would call a very high moral standard, the problem is, it is totally misguided. She doesn’t get disappointed that she got a 98 instead of 100, she decides she is a total failure at life because of it. No matter how many times my husband and I tell her, she is doing fine and that it is her honest effort that matters, she never hears us. She has so internalized her belief that anything less than perfection is a moral failure that she can not conduct herself in any other manner, no matter how hard she tries.
I have often heard people say, it doesn’t matter what other people think. You have to do what is best for you and not worry about others. I have heard it and heard it and it’s true, but I don’t think that is the problem. I don’t think any of us care what others think. The problem isn’t that we care what they think, it is that we falsely believe we know what we think.
I don’t care what others think of me. Approval from others is a vale covering my own uncertainty. It is the conditioning of my mind so deep that the set of values I instinctively react from are essentially not actually the ones I believe in and that contradiction is where the problem lies.
I had a conversation with a lovely, lovely woman on FB this morning. She told me she respected how I can tactfully have conversations with people who disagree with me on gun issues and that she wished she had more of that. I am not going to get into the specifics, but she felt like she should be more forthcoming with that fact that she carries a gun. Her ultimate argument was, “I was raised to believe honestly is the best policy.” Her conflict isn’t that she is looking for approval or trying to please others, it is that she believes she is conducting herself in a manner that is contrary to her beliefs about being honest. I would argue it is her beliefs about honesty that are the problem and not her behavior. She has attached a moral judgement to a non-moral behavior.
Her courage to decide for herself what is best for her and her family and sticking to that truth, that is the moral behavior not whether or not she is “honest” with her co-workers about something that is none of their business in the first place. I would say, morally speaking, her behavior is right on.
That is the moral standard to which we all should be true.
**NOTE** Please know that I truly have no problems associated with my childhood. I promise you I have long sense dealt with those issues way back in my late 20’s. The attack a year ago has brought to light things that I need to work out like not being able to fight and in my efforts to overcome years of conditioning I have been able to find and pin point things from my childhood that contributed to that mindset, but there is no pain in doing so. Those wounds are healed. I share as a way to help you understand my journey and how I got to a place of total compliance, but I assure those memories are not a source of pain for me, quite the opposite.