I took an Uber from my Hollywood apartment to West Hollywood a few days before Christmas and learned a lot listening to the driver. He was a black man in his 50s, who never stopped talking during our 25-minute drive. After we had exchanged the customary niceties about the weather, traffic, and Uber’s success, the conversation hit on the holidays. The man said was has a Muslim married to a Christian. Together they had three small children. He said his children were allowed to celebrate Christmas, but he would not allow a Christmas tree in his home because it was a sign of idolatry. In that short ride, this man told of his contempt for Christianity, Jews and the gay community in West Hollywood. I learned his father in law was a Pentecostal Holiness minister and had disowned his wife for marrying him. I could understand why he hated Christianity, but I was not sure what gays and Jews had done to him.
Why was he telling me any of this? Let’s see, a black man hates Jews, Christians, and queers… how did he not walk right into a stereotype that scares the crap out of me? As he ranted, my mind joined him… maybe he found Islam in prison… don’t all men who go to prison find either Jesus or Mohamad in prison? He is an angry black man… I am sure he was in jail at some point… probably for stabbing a gay Jew he was selling drugs to in an alley. Maybe he told me this crap just to piss me off!!
It is easy to get upset with people when we think we understand their intentions. For instance, if I believe my friend is flirting with my partner because he wants to make me jealous, there’s a good chance I’ll get upset. As another example, if I believe the reason I got cut off in traffic is because the other driver is an inconsiderate jerk, I’ll probably feel justified in yelling at him and honking my horn.
This is why it’s important to remember that all things are infinitely complex. Take your life for example. You’ve gone through much stuff in your life that the average person on the street is not going to know or take into consideration when they judge your behaviors or actions.
Perhaps the reason you cut someone off in traffic was because you were swerving to miss an animal in the road. Maybe your wife is going into labor, and you are driving as fast as you can to the hospital. Maybe you’ve got diarrhea. Who knows? Moreover, while it is possible the person who cut you off is just choosing to be an inconsiderate jerk, from our outside perspective, we will just never know. It is impossible to know the true intentions of the people around us because it is impossible for us to step entirely into another person’s shoes. There is always stuff going on under the surface that we are unaware.
Ok, this one might annoy some people, but it is an important piece of the puzzle, so I’m going to say it anyway. In this reality, we’ve gotten hung up on issues of “right” vs. “wrong.” I would go so far to say that most people today honestly believe that right and wrong are truly separate, definable and absolute categories. Because we often believe “what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong,” we frequently feel justified in disliking or even hating people whom we deem to be “wrong.”
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is totally black and white, and it ignores the shades of gray and the good within the bad. For example, let’s say that you said something that hurt your friend’s feelings and he got upset. An outsider might see this and label your behavior as “wrong” because you made your friend upset. However, perhaps you said something truthful, and this piece of truth was helpful to your friend in the long run. Alternatively, perhaps you were standing up for yourself instead of allowing your friend to walk all over you.
I’m not saying I support being unkind to one’s friend, all I am saying is often what looks like something bad has a very good reason behind it. Labeling someone’s behavior as unilaterally “wrong” denies us of the opportunity to see the good in other people, and makes it easier for us to dislike or even hate each other. Besides that, it is simply impossible to untangle the good from the bad, because all circumstances and events are infinitely complex.
The other problem with defining behavior as “right” or “wrong” is that it encourages us only to love people conditionally. Instead of offering our acceptance and kindness to all people regardless of how they are behaving, we withhold our compassion only for the people who are not on our naughty lists.
Moreover, yes, I know that at this point some readers are likely shaking their heads and thinking “Ok Rob, but what about serial killers and molesters? Of course, those behaviors are wrong!”
Good point… I’m not a fan of serial killers or molesters either so I get it. However, there’s something to consider here before we make an exception to the rule. Do we fault animals for killing other animals? Do we consider animals that eat their mates or their young to be “wrong” or “bad?” Do we believe a shark is destined to “go to hell?” Most of us do not, yet killing is still involved, and sometimes it is completely unnecessary.
Do we beat ourselves up for eating meat, wearing leather or destroying the habitats of animals around the world to make our communities? Do we get mad that people spay and neuter their pets, permanently mutilating their animals’ sexual organs? Most of us do not, yet massive amounts of pain and death occur for these exact reasons.
So why do we feel the need to label certain actions as “wrong,” but we shrug our shoulders and say, “well, that is just the way it is” for other similar acts? Why do we judge and condemn some behaviors, but justify and excuse others?
This is because we aren’t dealing with universal “rights” and “wrongs” at all. Instead, there is simply what is “wanted” and “unwanted.” Right and wrong are just categories we have created here to justify our personal preferences about how we want life to be.
Do we want to be murdered in cold blood? Probably not…so most of us will say that a serial killer is “wrong,” because he violates this desire.
Do we want our streets to be clean and our pet population controlled? Mostly yes…so spaying and neutering pets must be “right,” because it helps us meet our desire (even though most of us would be totally outraged with the idea of human population control).
Do we want animals to treat each other with kindness? Hmm…well, most of us do not care, so this is an irrelevant issue altogether and isn’t something we feel the need to debate.
Some issues most of us feel similarly on (like the ones above), but others we do not, and this is why we are often divided on polarizing issues of right and wrong like abortion, the death penalty and gun control.
To be certain, we are completely entitled to our personal preferences, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling strong about a given subject. However, when we accept the fact that there is an only preference, rather than right and wrong, it becomes easier to forgive other people for their choices and actions. None of us is right, and none of us is wrong. We just are what we are, and we prefer what we prefer.
In accepting what is, rather than judging it, we find our ability to offer unconditional love to all people, even when their choices violate our personal preferences. I have no idea why the Uber drive shared so much information with me. Maybe he needed validation in a world that didn’t see his version of right or wrong… I’m not sure I’ll ever know, or I’ll ever think of him again. He did make me realize I may never understand man’s inhumanity to man.