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On Ducks, Free Speech, Knee-Jerk Reactions, Buddhism and Moral Ambiguity

Yesterday, the You-Know-What hit the proverbial fan when that one guy from Duck Dynasty said some things about gays and blacks, A&E suspended him and then people reacted.

For the record, I do not have cable TV. I caught Duck Dynasty once. I wasn’t sure if this was a show taking rednecks and putting them into contrived situations to make them look like hicks or what.

I’m not going to condemn someone for stating their opinion on a hot-button issue. The First Amendment gives Phil Robertson the right to say so. However, it also gives me the right to disagree with him, and I do disagree with him.

What bothers me the most about this controversy is not that this guy stated an opinion, but that everyone is so convinced that they are right and the other person is wrong.

Opinions Are Like–You Know The Rest

Opinions are neither right nor wrong. They are your personal feeling on any given topic. I don’t have to agree with your opinions and you certainly don’t have to agree with mine.

However, we’ve forgotten what opinions are because the need to be right and to put down someone else as wrong is more important than everything else these days. Nobody wants to sit down, open their minds and have a mature discussion on those differences and perhaps learn something  from the other person. Nobody wants to sit down and have the discussion that leads to common ground, which in turn, leads to solutions to problems.

Nope. We have to be right. Some people will go through ridiculous lengths to convince you that they are right and you are not.

Conversely, there are people who will project their need to be right onto you when you just state your opinion in terms of “this is how I feel.” They are so used to conflict and to this need to be “right” that, when conflict is absent, they create conflict because that’s what they are used to.

I’m going to quote a line from a book I’m currently reading, . (Disclaimer: this is an affiliate link.)

Being awake to life means embracing the reality that moral certainties are often elusive. Definitive moments of right and wrong are superseded by many more moments where we simply don’t know. Moral certainty is possessed by those who have not looked deeply into the countless ambiguities of human life.

So what does this all mean?  Here’s an example.

Steve, Sharon and Kelly all believe that it is wrong to kill. However, all of them eat meat and in order to obtain that meat, an animal (a cow, a pig, a chicken or any other animal that we eat), had to be killed.

If it’s wrong to kill, as they believe, are they then wrong to be eating meat?

Steve, after much thought, decides that because he believes that it is wrong to kill or harm, he will become a vegetarian.

After much thought and consideration, Sharon comes to the conclusion that because humans are omnivores, she will continue to eat meat. But she will become more aware of where this meat comes from and how the animals were raised. She will spend the extra money to buy grass-fed beef and meat that comes from animals that were humanely raised.

Kelly doesn’t really think about it other than humans and animals and plants are all part of the food chain.

So who is right and who is wrong here?

None of them are right or wrong. They are doing what they know to be the best for them.

The World Does Not Work in Absolutes

This is one example of a situation we could encounter in life that involves moral ambiguity.  We may have a firm stand on what is right and what is wrong in general terms. However, when we are faced with this situation personally, things aren’t so cut and dried.

Suppose we have a friend who has terminal cancer and she has decided to explore the option of doctor assisted suicide because of the agony and pain she is in.  We may strongly believe that it is wrong to harm or kill another person or ourselves, but that belief comes into conflict with the compassion we have for our friend, whom we don’t want to see suffer.

So what do you do? Stick to ideology or help your friend?

 

The book goes on to say this:

“We do not always have the right answer, but we accept that life asks of us a quality of compassion and understanding that is beyond the realm of right and wrong. A life of integrity asks us to forsake the false security of right and wrong.”

This does not mean that there is no right from wrong. There is right from wrong. What this passage is saying is that there is no absolute, black and white, cut and dried morality because sometimes, the right thing, the compassionate thing to do falls into that gray area and if you view the world in terms of absolutes, what might be “right” is actually the most harmful and hurtful thing you can do.

Mindfulness and Buddhism

I’ve been delving more and more into the teachings of Buddhism lately because of the mindfulness component. Mindfulness is a big part in my recovery & management of my depression and anxiety.

Distorted thought processes (“distorted” as in the cognitive behavioral therapy definition), in large part, are what keep both depression and anxiety fully in place. Both conditions thrive on reacting to our thoughts instead of giving up all judgment of those thoughts. The opposite of distorted thinking is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness requires that I stop, ask myself some questions that will then require I made a decision if what I am about to do or say serves me and my life in a positive way. My next action is determined by the answer to this question.

One of the big and frequent questions I have to stop and ask myself is “how is dwelling on something you cannot change helping you to be calm, not harmful to myself and mindful?”

When I can stop myself and ask this the answer is almost always “It’s not”.

Mindfulness requires that you be aware of your words and your actions.

It sounds easy, but it’s not easy. It takes conscious practice to learned mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not denying the existence of a negative situation or negative thought. Mindfulness requires that you acknowledge it exists—nothing more, nothing less. You don’t need to dwell on these thoughts or play them through your mind like a You Tube video. Mindfulness is a conscious decision on how you are going to think, speak or act before you do it.

I can’t always stop myself in time before doing or saying something dumb, angry, negative or hurtful to me or to someone else. However, if I see after the fact, because my words/actions had negative consequences on me or someone else, that I should have said or did something different and I make a conscious decision to act differently next time, then all is not lost.

Mindfulness is a constant work in progress.

Buddha and Jesus Weren’t All That Different

Now what does this have to do with a reality show TV star stating an opinion on gays?

It doesn’t have so much to do with what he said, but more in being convinced and others being convinced that they are “right”, everyone who disagrees with them is wrong, if you tell them they’re wrong, you’re persecuting them and violating their First Amendment rights (even though they fail to grasp that they are doing exactly what they are accusing you of doing to them).

There is no moral certainty. There is no black and white. There is always ambiguity.

The book goes on to say this:

“Adherence to rules alone can disguise unethical sentiments of moral superiority, self-righteousness or fear. A truly ethical life is born of wisdom and contributes to wisdom; it is born of compassion and embodies compassion.”

What does this mean?

In a nutshell, the idea of ideology above all is unethical because if you stick to ideology, you may end up harming others instead of helping them.

In Buddhism and even in practices such as yoga and meditation, you are required to check your ego at the door. Ego is that nasty little troll that takes over and has us comparing ourselves to others or insisting that we’re right or better than others because we believe this or we wear this brand of clothing or we eat this type of diet. Ego is what fuels a lot of self-righteousness.

While this book is about Buddhism, I’ve seen the same sentiment expressed in Jesus Christ’s teachings in the Bible:

An ethical life comes down to a sincere and heartfelt commitment to acting with loving kindness towards yourself and to others.

Ideology says that there is a definite right and a definite wrong. An ideologue may believe that because that one verse in Leviticus says that “homosexuality” is a sin, then all homosexuals are evil.  However, the very same Bible says that you are to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”.

There’s that pesky “moral ambiguity” again.

So what do you do? Shun gay people because of one Bible verse or do you push ideology aside to treat another person the same way you want other people to treat you?  What if that gay person was a member of your family? Would you or could you shun them because your ideology and being right is more important than your own flesh and blood?

This is the ambiguity we are faced with every single day.

The person who is so certain that they are morally correct will shun this person. The individual who acknowledges that there is ambiguity in this situation will act with loving kindness towards this person, because treating others the way you want others to treat you is the ethical thing to do.

An ideologue will still insist they are correct, even when presented with evidence that contradicts their belief. An ideologue will ignore facts that don’t support their beliefs and only concern themselves with the facts that support their beliefs. An ideologue will often revise history to justify their beliefs.

Ideology is found on both sides of the spectrum. There are just as many ideologues on the Far Right as there are on the Far Left. The difference is that the Far Right currently has the microphone and the volume on their speakers is turned up louder than everyone else’s.

There is an irony here. The ideologue, the person who is so convinced that they are right and everyone else is wrong, deep down, is not very secure in their beliefs. So they get loud, they push, they belittle, they view the world in terms of black and white because they can’t deal with their own uncertainty. To an extent, this person could be acting this way because they are ashamed of a thought or feeling they may have that runs contrary to what they believe to be “right”.

This is the type of situation where the ardent anti-gay activist gets caught soliciting men for sex on Craigslist and the resulting scandal ruins them.

Is this person a hypocrite? Probably.  Should you point it out? Rub it in their faces?

You could, but there’s that matter of integrity.

Integrity also means that you acknowledge that this person is struggling with a concept that goes against everything they are taught: that life is full of ambiguity.  They have not come to a place where they can see that loving kindness towards themselves and others is more important than being right. Integrity also means you show loving kindness towards this person as they come to terms with their own personal struggle and the idea that life in general is not cut and dried.

Ironically, this concept of loving kindness towards yourself and to other people is taught in the Bible several times. The two main instances that I think of are the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Sermon on the Mount.   But those who engage in rigid thinking do not acknowledge this because it runs contrary to their view that everything in our world is absolute.

What The First Amendment Really Is

Most people mistakenly believe that the First Amendment means you can say anything you want without consequence.

No, it does not. This is the full text of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment only states that Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of speech. It does not say that you can say whatever you feel like without consequence. The Supreme Court has made this very clear. The most famous example given is that yes, if you yell “fire” in a crowded building when there is none and cause a panic, you can get into trouble.

If you are gathering peaceably to protest something and the police arrest you, then there’s a very good chance that your constitutional rights were violated.

The very existence of libel and slander laws also says that you cannot say whatever you want without consequence.

You can say what you want. However, you must be prepared to deal with the consequences of your words, both good and bad.

Society, at large, has deemed that anti-gay or racist speech is unacceptable. When society at large hears speech like that, they will not react positively.

What is deemed proper by society at large is not the same as stifling your free speech. Societal norms are not laws, yet those who protest the loudest about their first amendment rights being squelched seem to confuse the two and instead of owning up to the fact they said something that a majority of society has deemed inappropriate, they would rather become martyrs and play the persecution card.

This is not a First Amendment issue here. This is a “terms of employment” issue. A&E gave Phil Robertson and his family a platform. Because Mr. Robertson used this platform to say things that much of society finds unacceptable, A&E, as his employer, took that platform away.  They are well within their rights to do so, especially if the contract between the network and Robertson contains language stating this can happen.

When people complain about “political correctness”, what they are really saying is “I don’t like change.”

Life is impermanent. Change is a fact of life. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not and the more you fight it, the harder it’s going to be for you.

The Moral of This Story?

Think before you react. Don’t just react to what you hear or read. Stop and think about what’s really going on. Look into things, be curious. Investigate.

Be mindful. Ask yourself how reacting to this will personally serve you and make your life better.

 

 

Kathy Kramer

Kathy Kramer has words in her head, so she writes them down. Kiki Dee had words in her head, but she only just said them. Kathy has other things in her head that aren’t so great, but that’s what the medication is for.

Kathy is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Plains Magazine and eFiction Magazine. Kathy is originally from Wisconsin but her mid-life crisis prompted her to move to South Dakota because she can’t be like other people and do normal mid-life crisis things like dress inappropriately for her age, get Botox or chase after younger men. No. Kathy has to be different.

When Kathy isn’t writing her author bio in the third person, she likes to make things, she likes to read books, and she likes to go outside. Kathy lives with her husband, whom she refers to in these pages as The Hubby or D.

Kathy also likes to hang out on Twitter a lot, especially during football games. Kathy is a Green Bay Packers fan and has been since she was born. She is also a contributor to NFL Female.com, as a writer about the Green Bay Packers.