Don’t know about you but the next time someone in real life starts a sentence that starts “Wolf, you should…” I’m going to pay real close attention. Probably the first thing out of my mouth will be “why?”
Followed by “why?”
And the answer would be followed by “yes, but why?”
Like some snot-nosed little kid who truly wants to know, but comes off looking like a little shit disturber.
I’m not talking about logical “shoulds” – they’re welcome. “You shouldn’t touch the stove when it’s hot” is generally a good idea. As is “you should save your money” and “you should be careful about what you eat”. Those are all designed with your well-being in mind. It’s the moral “shoulds” that interrupt me. The “shoulds” that get blurted out from some long-held tradition which isn’t easily explained.
Like “you should go to church”. Or “you should give to panhandlers”.
Or, “Wolf, you should stay married.”
“Cause God hates divorce.”
“Yeah, the Bible says that. But why?”
“Is it because the culture of the time was pretty lenient towards marriage and divorce, and people had a propensity for taking almost-one-night-stands and using marriage as the moral tool to make that happen? Is it because all one had to do once the deed was done was say ‘I divorce you I divorce you I divorce you.’?”
“Well the Bible doesn’t give parameters for God’s emotion.”
“Well, do you have emotion?”
“That’s a stupid question. Of course I do.”
“And do you have reasons for your emotions?”
“Yes, but so what?”
“And are you made in the image of God?”
“And so doesn’t it follow that if you’re made in His image, with emotions that came from Him, it’s likely He has reasons for His emotions?”
“I suppose, but…”
“So aren’t you trying to set yourself up as moral judge here? Aren’t you trying to paint a multi-coloured situation as black and white?”
Man, I wish I had all of the above handy when I was still going to church and believing that stuff.
But the thing is: this kind of “should” nonsense happens inside circles of people who aren’t necessarily religious too. People want to feel morally right about everything, so they deny their feelings, by putting a big old “SHOULD NOT” stamp across their emotions.
The thing that brought this my attention recently was the fortunate demise of Osama Bin Laden. At first, when I saw updates on folks’ Facebook pages talking about how it’s good that he’s dead, but we shouldn’t be rejoicing, I thought “well, that’s typically a religious -wrongheaded- approach”. I entered into some pretty heated conversations about it, to no avail.
But then I saw the same sentiment being uttered by non-religious people. People who felt it was wrong to be happy about anyone’s death. Even Noam Chomsky has a problem with his death; he tried to paint a comparison between troops going in and murdering Osama (which is clearly what they did, as he was unarmed), and terrorists coming in and murdering George Bush.
What I’m really hearing people say is this:
“I feel good, and maybe even joyful that the murdering terrorist tyrant Osama is dead, but I feel bad about feeling good.”
Maybe the problem is one of distance from 9/11. It seems likely that, had Osama been killed within a few weeks of 9/11, very few would have felt the least bit bad about feeling good that he was dead. That swelling feeling of justified vengeance would have been too overwhelming. Anyone who raised an objection would be viewed with high distaste; they would have been seen as hopelessly naïve and stupid.
It got me thinking about other things in our lives where “should” takes the place of honesty. One of the pitfalls of growing out of childhood is that we become so socialized that we forget the joy of saying what we think. Many old people have figured that out, and have reverted to blurting their honest thoughts, which is off-putting to so many of us. Can you imagine a truly truthful conversation among your peers?
How many times has “should” ended up shutting your mouth? I mean fine, you saved on an argument, but at what cost?
This is the kind of stuff I think about, at 2:30 in the morning when normal people are fast asleep. When I *should* be asleep too.