(About 3 minutes to read)
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Morality is total, utter bullshit. Feeling scandalized? How could I care about others and not believe in morality? What kind of heathen am I!? Well, step onto my carpet, and I’ll show you a whole new world.
First, let’s talk about what I mean by morality. Morality, to me, is the belief that you inherently think that something is good or bad. It’s part of your own being, or a way you define yourself. We draw a line in the sand of people with good morals versus those with questionable morals.
So what’s wrong with that? Well, nothing, really. It’s completely meaningless. I may act in a way that follows my “moral character”, but that’s not why I do anything. If it were, I’d lose myself very quickly. My definition of myself would dissipate into a pool of diatribes and soup kitchens. My believing that I stand for something in particular because it’s right means that I’m standing for a broad idea or feeling, not because it’s grounded in my own experiences and the values shaped because of them.
Morality is not why people do things. I am not inherently a good or bad person. I’m just a blob- a blob with sparkles and lots of pink. I exist, that’s all. But what shapes who I am are the relationships and events in my life, and the balance of how I relate to these things. I act because something in my life has made me want to react in support or against what is happening. I feel compelled to act because I get something out of it. I act out of self-interest.
Let me take a moment, as I often must, to explain what self-interest is. Self-interest (not to be confused with selfishness) is my motivation for doing something. It is why I act. I need to get something out of an experience in order to participate in it. Sometimes that something is big- I get paid, I want to be associated with something, my life will be better for it. And sometimes, it’s small. It gives me a good feeling, my grandmother would have been proud, or it makes me uncomfortable to see others in pain.
Every single relationship you have is based in self-interest. Your friend makes you feel good about yourself, they inspire you, they force you to take life less seriously, or they pump up your street cred (which is obviously why you’d want to be friends with me). Those friends that you had because your mom made you didn’t last past the sandbox- unless you found commonalities that drew you to that person.
Why is this distinction important? Because if you’re in denial of your self-interest, you run the risk of losing motivation. If you’re doing it for others, without an understanding of how it impacts you, it’ll drop to the bottom of your to-do list. Volunteering at a soup kitchen because it’s the right thing to do is different from volunteering because you remember your mother always cooking a little bit extra for that nice old lady that lived next door, or because that month in college where you could only afford to eat Ramen Noodles left you thinking about what it’s like for people who’s reality is that Ramen Noodles are all their family of 4 can afford. See the difference? One leaves you acting because it gives you a warm feeling; the others give you an understanding of why and support to keep acting.
My challenge to you is to spend some time thinking about why you act. Really think about it. Don’t settle for “because I was taught to” or “because the Bible says so”. That may be true, but how do you relate to those things? What in your life made you decide that you should listen to that voice?
Join me in calling bullshit on the personal moral high ground. Let’s start a movement of genuinely understanding what’s important to us and why. Maybe then, the changes we want to see will become more sustainable.
Your turn: Did you think about it? Was there anything surprising? A memory you forgot about, or that you do actually get something out of that seemingly soul-sucking task? How did it impact your relationship with the activity?