Spectrum of Right and Wrong

Right and Wrong is a notion as old as humankind itself.  Ideas about right and wrong can unite a nation or decimate entire civilizations.  When we talk about what’s right and wrong we often shift the conversation into opposition: us vs. them.  From that space, we find our identity in what’s right and wage war against those who would oppose our beliefs.  We create labels and boxes that marginalize and dismiss entire groups of people. Some of us are willing to die for what’s right if it means defeating what’s wrong.  Maybe it is as black and white as that….

Maybe it isn’t.  Maybe our shared humanity exists in the space between right and wrong.  Maybe right and wrong aren’t as clear cut as we thought. Maybe there is a field of potentiality where we can learn from each other, tell stories, and share experiences.

“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi

So let us hold the question of right vs. wrong to a state of curiosity.

To be curious is to be in a state of wonder.  When we let the question be bigger than ourselves, we hold it in way where we are willing to be wrong and willing to drop our attachment to our identity at the same time.

The Spectrum for Applying Right and Wrong

Ultimately, right and wrong are judged in reference to some standard. At one end of the spectrum are things like the hard sciences (math, physics, engineering) where there are clear rules and distinctions. These are some of the more common environments that benefit from and reinforce the idea that there can be such a thing as a right and wrong. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are the legal/judicial systems that have rules for how society operates.  These systems make decisions about right and wrong where lawyers and judges have different opinions about what is right and wrong.

At the other end of the spectrum are human relationships.  Fundamentally, positive and sustainable relationships are equal and interdependent, with neither person being overall “better than” or “superior to” the other. Relationship psychologist John Gottman notes: “Insisting on right and wrong is antithetical to interdependent, co-equal, cooperative relationships because it doesn’t acknowledge legitimate differences in values and emotional responses.”

Establishing a right and wrong in a relationship creates a winner and a loser: a zero sum game. Right and wrong are ultimately a lose-lose contest in relationships; the illusion of “being right,” becomes a trap that leaves both parties feeling disconnected, detached, and in a place of contempt: the exact opposite goal of having a relationship.

So what’s the offering? Let go of “being right.”  Find shared humanity and build a better world. Get curious about the process.  Jump into the flux of uncertainty and own what is present for you, detached from it being true for everyone around you. It takes a mindful approach to hear another perspective without judgment.  The skill is to be able to hold and examine beliefs without engaging with them as absolute truth. This doesn’t mean you are completely accepting of or agree with the person’s actions. Rather, you are accepting the person behind the actions.  It’s about understanding where they are in the moment. In the language of nonviolent communication, it’s about recognizing the need behind the behavior.

This isn’t a pitch for you to adopt the non-existence of right/wrong but an invitation to think critically about where that dichotomy is being applied. Be open to seeing another viewpoint and what it has to offer. We cannot fully comprehend what it is like to be our neighbor, but we can grasp what it is like to be human.

How to Hate Others and Live on the Right/Wrong Cul-De-Sac

As with most other human processes there is a step-by-step system to developing, maintaining, and fueling animosity towards others. When we strive for shared connection and see our similarities in another, it can be difficult to hate them. Instead, a mechanism is required to dehumanize them and make them into an enemy. An “Other”. Living from a place of fear and worry about the unknown is a great start. Below are a few steps to move out of the neighborhood of shared humanity and in to the Cul-De-Sac of right/wrong. Most of us do these every day in some form or another. All of us would be better off to avoid them at all costs.

Step 1: Commit to your shoes.
No need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, or anywhere for that matter. It’s much simpler to stick to your own point of view. Don’t waste time considering other perspectives or imagining what others are experiencing. After all, you’ll never really know so why bother.

Step 2: Black and White thinking.
Decide that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. All of that grey area business is complicated and it’s easier to commit to one-way thinking. You’re right and ‘they’ are wrong. It’s as easy as that. Why would you believe something if you weren’t right about it anyway? Stick to your guns and don’t get caught up in the monotony of considering that such absolutes can change depending on how a person perceives a situation. That’s a game for suckers, and you’re not one of ‘em.

Step 3: Drum up Your emotions.
Become very passionate about your stance. Use your emotions to obscure rational thinking or inconvenient evidence to the contrary. Get loud, sarcastic, point out why they are complete idiots. Repeat yourself if they’re not getting the message. Once you’ve told them, if they’re not ‘getting it’ then that’s their problem. Oh yea, and that 100% responsibility nonsense, don’t worry about it. It’s their fault anyways.

Step 4: Cherry Picking
When it comes to evidence to support your stances, it’s not really that important. But since ‘they’ are going to try to bombard you with facts, you might as well have your own. You’re not going to want to spend much time on this so take the easy route, quick google search for something that supports your stance. It doesn’t have to be well thought out, as long as it’s close. You can throw out any evidence that doesn’t support your stance. It’s probably wrong and you wouldn’t want to waste your time.

Bonus Cherry Picking Hack: When it comes to hating groups of people. Pick out a few characteristics that really urk you. Then do a quick youtube search to find some examples of why you’re right. Conclude that these characteristics are typical of the whole group. And bingo! This hack really helps you save time by taking advantage of stereotypes, after all they wouldn’t be stereotypes if they weren’t true.

from xkcd
from XKCD
from xkcd
from XKCD

Step 5: Ignorance is bliss
This one is super easy. Avoid critical thinking, sometimes defined as…
“actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and yadda yadda as a guide to belief and action…yadda yadda yadda(1)”

Just reading that definition requires far too much effort! Avoid this hassle by simply filling your mind with prejudice. The best way to do it is to join a group that shares your views. In this way you will have constant access to ready-made slogans, encouragement and selected evidence to echo your views. Be sure to seek out enemies to keep your prejudice muscles in peak shape. When everybody agrees with you, your beliefs tend to get a little flabby. But when you defend your views against unbelievers this gives you a full-dose of animosity to strengthen your resolve. People who actively oppose you are some of your best targets. They help you reinforce your prejudices, plus nothing strengthens your stance like a white knuckle grip on a picket sign.

In your free time choose to read only newspapers, books and magazines which support your views. Select podcasts, websites and TV programs that are on your side and tune out or attack the rest.

See: Creative vs. Reactive Brain

Step 6: Shoot your mouth off
Be sure that you do as much talking as possible when with people who disagree with you. This is an important step because if you were to begin listening to what your opponent had to say this could undermine your certainty in your own stance. So keep spouting off to prevent them from getting a word in. If things begin to get tricky, try shouting or threaten violence. Whatever you do, avoid listening to them and mentally rehearse what you are going to say when they finally shut up.

Step 7: Master the Whataboutism
As you become more solidified in your stance your going to want to practice changing the subject to someone else’s wrong doing. This technique is tried and true. Nobody’s perfect and pointing out so will shift the conversation and muddy the waters. The whataboutism is essential when  ‘they’ start asking the tough questions. ‘Okay, but what about mangos?’