Our drive down to Bonnaroo was divided into multiple stops, the first of which was Pittsburg, PA. Each part of the drive was punctuated by listening to new music, epic sax man on loop, or various types of scintillating conversation. For this leg of the journey in particular, I ended up talking about morality and the possible existence of a moralistic gold standard with my friends Tim and Mike – Mike, by the way, also has a wonderful blog worth checking out.
Morality is always a difficult concept to discuss, since everyone automatically has a different reference point. Tim, for example, pointed to the fact that he believed strongly in a Nietzschean style of morality – essentially, there are no such universal truths such as good or bad. What really only exists is the overall pursuit of a personal happiness and meaning. Of course a vast number of people would take issue with this, and I am not entirely sure if even Tim would stick to this moralistic standard for the rest of his life; this realization lead the three of us to an interesting conversation.
People’s morality change over time, as they are exposed to new ideas and new experiences. I doubt anyone reading this views morality in the same way now than they did even a year ago. The mind constantly adapts to new experiences – to compensate for this, so too must our way of dealing with the world. This constant change and flux can lead to stressful
situations for individuals. For example, if someone has a strict moral code and is unable to live up to it they may experience some painful cognitive dissonance – a feeling of psychological discomfort which occurs when someone’s actions don’t live up to their world view.
It is for this reason that I believe it would be best if people, instead of dealing in absolutes, chose to live their lives according to a moralistic gold standard. No matter what your moral code may be, you will always be put in situations that make it near impossible to live in complete compliance with your own standards. To compensate for this, people should instead realize that the world does not work in absolutes but in degrees.
Essentially, instead of having an uncompromising ethical standard for yourself set yourself a gold standard to shoot for, knowing full well that you may fail to live up to these goals. That’s fine! It is the aiming for perfection is what truly matters, not the actual achievement.
Morality should never be uncompromising – no matter which code of ethics you subscribe to. At the same time as having a moralistic gold standard, allow yourself to live with an open mind. You should be confident that your morality is correct and best fits you, but you should never shut yourself off from debate and new ideas.
Through discussion, who knows what new things you may learn? Not all ideas are inherently inimical to various belief systems, and with an open mind you may be able to combine various disparate standards into a more all-encompassing whole.