The Right Thing
Have you ever felt like your reason for doing ‘the right thing’ is because of what others would think of you if you didn’t? Think of how many areas that happens; giving in church, volunteering, forgiving someone, wearing something ‘appropriately modest’, dating only people in your age range, your choice of careers, etc. The list goes on and on.
What are we worried about? We are worried that we will be judged. At the least we will be judged ‘less than’. At the most we will be judged morally corrupt. We don’t want to be judged. it’s painful, it’s embarrassing, it’s shameful. And so we behave. And that is good and bad. For example, It’s good if your conscience keeps you from doing something hurtful and destructive but it’s bad if it keeps you from pursuing a lifelong dream.
Knowing God’s Will
For those of you of a religious bent, when I first became a Christian I heard a sermon called ‘Knowing God’s Will’. I expected it to be some tirade about sacrificing and doing what you didn’t want to do to prove how much you loved and followed God. It wasn’t. What the preacher said was basically, Whatever you want to do is God’s Will. That surprised me and has kept with me ever since. What I took it to mean was that God has instilled in you a desire to do or accomplish something and he is not interested in creating a desire in you only to condemn you for following it. If you love creating art, then create it with the full assurance that your desire was put there by God. If you want to be an aid worker helping victims of disasters, do that with the full assurance that your desire was put there by God.
Knowing the Difference
But how do you know whether what you want to do is ok or not? Simply and honestly ask yourself this: is what I want to do going to hurt myself or others? If you are going to go have an affair, then guess what? That is hurtful. It’s called cheating for a reason and there is a valid moral judgment on that. If you are going to pursue being a park ranger, even if your family doesn’t understand why, that is not hurtful to you or others. There is no legitimate moral judgment on it.
No Matter What
But guess what? Someone is going to think what you want to do is a bad idea. They will say you won’t be able to support your family that way. Or you will be putting yourself in harm’s way. They will say it is trivial, or shallow, or not important enough, or this or that. Someone will judge you. But your conscience, if it’s screwed on straight, will know whether what you are doing is harmful to yourself or others. It will know if you are rationalizing or are lying to yourself. Looking inside at that instead anticipating the opinions of others is key to living the life you want to live.
Drawing and commentary © Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
“Conscience is, in most people, the anticipation of the opinions of others.” – Sir Henry Taylor, 1800 – 1886, British Playwright
Let’s cut to the chase, it’s day #4 of my Conscience series.
Is this about fashion? Maybe, if you are a young woman who isn’t comfortable wearing short shorts. But ‘fashion’ comes in many forms. There is moral fashion for example.
This quote actually came from a fight about communism here in the US back in the 1940s and 50s. The House of Representatives started to hold hearings trying to get citizens to tell on their neighbors, co-workers and friends as to whether they were communists or communist sympathizers. When they brought Lillian Hellman, a play and screen writer, to testify she refused, using this quote to rebuff their attempts to coerce her to tell.
The reason I used the image of a heart being cut out is that more than any other element (besides perhaps one’s romantic entanglements) our conscience really is the heart of who we are. Take away our morality and our conscience and you pretty much leave an empty shell behind.
I am always proud of my friends, family and even people I only know online, who find their moral boundaries and grow in them. Don’t get me wrong though, I am not only talking about the ‘traditional values’ idea. I am also talking about the radical, or the nudist, or the person who foregoes the traditional life of the middle class for a life serving others in Africa. I am talking about the child of doctors who expect their child to follow in their footsteps but instead they incur the wrath of the family by deciding to be a singer, or artist. This is true of the children of artists who want to be doctors too of course.
I am talking about those who have courage to say, ‘This is me.’
Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman
Quote by Lillian Hellman, 1905-1984, American playwright and screenwriter. Look her up to find out more about her courageous stand against the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
I am delighted that today will inflict ‘Conscience #3’ on you.
The Invention of Hell
I know some of you believe Hell is a real place that has existed since time immemorial. I don’t. I believe Hell is a place invented by humans trying to make sense of an unfair and capricious world where seemingly bad people triumphed and good people met disaster too often. How does it all even out? There has to be a place that those bad people go after death to make it fair. That place is hell.
Hell on Earth
Since those same moralists don’t actually know for certain that there is a hell as evil as they want, they make sure that those they hope are going there suffer along the way. There are of course the usual, time honored punishments of burning at the stake, drawn and quartered, etc. But that is for one individual. Far worse is when the moralists devise a hell on earth for an entire population. There is the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime, just to name a few from the past 100 years.
Why Do People Do This?
How does a person, government or a whole nation justify something like this? They justify it by saying these people deserve it because they are immoral and sinful, thus less human. In their moralistic hunger they have rationalized the most barbaric behavior imaginable.
It’s not just in history and it’s not just in some foreign land. Being a self-righteous moralist, especially an uneducated and zealous one, is a very dangerous thing everywhere. Look around you in your own life, watch for it. You will see it. And when you do I hope you stand up and fight it.
Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman
Quote by Bertrand Russell, 1872-1970, British Philosopher
“The infliction of a cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.”
Let’s be clear and don’t forget, today is day #2 of our Conscience series!
The virtue of a bad memory
This morning I happened upon a Facebook post by a muse and friend of mine, Angela Huckeby. This is what she wrote:
Dates and anniversaries of sad occasions.
Sometimes I wonder if it is a coping mechanism that I have acquired after a few small tragedies, but I have no idea what date ANY of my family members passed away on… Or the dates of my divorces… And most days I can’t even remember the date of my second marriage.
Selective memory, I’m sure.
Seem odd? Probably.
The thing is, I have become a master at NOT dwelling on the past. I’m sure a little bit of dwelling can be healthy, but I see so many people in absolute heartache each year over the anniversary of anything that caused them pain.
What’s the purpose of such torture?
I see no point. Remember the joy and live and love in the now.
Where We Store the Big Mixing Bowl
Angela’s reflections show a different side to the virtue of a bad memory than the one mentioned by the quote author, Mark Twain. He is humorously pointing out that it’s pretty convenient to forget our ‘sins’. But Angela is telling us how beneficial it is to also forget our sorrow, pain, resentments, heartaches.
Now, the truth is we don’t really forget them. What we do is put them away in the far back of a lower cabinet, as we do a big mixing bowl we only use once a year.
We know those things are there, we know we can feel them and remember them again if we want. But we have done our constant remembering, our wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. We are wrung out and gnashed out. Now we know we can put the memories way out of the way and we won’t lose them. We know we can bring them out if we ever need to.
Not a Sin Excuse
There is a peace in that. If you haven’t felt that peace, maybe there are some memories you need to store away. Not so you can excuse your ‘sin’ in the present, but so you can live and love in it.
Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman
Quote by Mark Twain
Reflection by Angela Huckeby. Angela and I became friends when she agreed to pose for my ‘Velveteen Women’ project back in 2011. A four panel photo-collage with her as the subject was included in the exhibition at Living Arts in Tulsa in 2012. Scroll down to see all four panels.
Artist and Muse
It’s been weighing on my conscience to do a series on Conscience so here is #1
Some say humans would not be moral without God, that that is where our conscience comes from. I don’t tend to believe that, I think many non-believers are quite more and conscientious. But I do think there is a basic understanding of right and wrong in most of us (barring mental illness for the most part) and that we know when we aren’t doing right. We may quickly rationalize not doing right, after all most of organized humanity has rationalized incredibly immoral behavior, but deep down we know what we are doing is wrong.
Guilty Before or After?
Not wrong enough to change mind you, but wrong enough that if you get caught you will immediately be repentant and contrite, apologizing profusely. Yes, you are doing all that because you got caught, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling the immorality of what you did. It’s just that the switch was turned on for you to feel that immorality without the buffers and blinders of your rationalization.
So, where does our conscience come from? Is it inherent or learned, from a God / spirit being or society or?
What do you think?
Drawing by Marty Coleman
Quote by H. L. Mencken, 1880-1956, American journalist and critic