I’m a skeptic about the idea of morality in interpersonal relationships.  I think the only conceptual approach that actually works is honesty.  And it’s only possible to be honest if you know where you’re at and what you can handle.

here’s how I’d break it down:

I’m absolutely not a moral relativist.  (haha, see that.  I’m a moral absolutist.)  the moral absolutes:  those are infringing on others’ freedom.  everything else is up for grabs and is situationally determined, little more than personal or cultural preferences.  It’s obfuscating to frame it as morality.

we have all the fuzzy stuff:  kindness, cruelty, openness, boundaries, honesty, white lies, real lies etc.  Most people will actually conceptualize those elements as moral issues. and that’s where the trouble starts.

The most difficult relationship I’ve ever had was with a man who was hung up on the idea of morality. He had these rigid ideas about right and wrong, and they were applied to everything I did, from the clothes I wore to the substances I consumed to the way I spent money and the friends I had. The white t-shirt, the orange mini cooper, the health food-  all those were ‘immoral’ to him. (it would take a while to explain why, and this isn’t a good forum.  but you can see how subjective and relative the concept of morality becomes if we allow it to be diluted.  Those things-  they are better described as preferences-  he would have felt safer with a girlfriend who wore baggy clothes, drove a ten year old honda civic, and ate french fries.)

So it’s what I’d call judgmental, outward focused, false morality.  Throwing stones in glass houses kind of thing.  It’s much easier to spot.

but there’s a spectrum.  False morality can be passive, instead of active.  Subjectively focused, self-focused.  This shows up, in the short term as “I won’t tell my friend/ partner/ boyfriend/ girlfriend the WHOLE truth, because it might hurt their feelings. Or they might leave me.”

In the long term, passivity like this is nothing more than emotional repression, poor communication or lying, depending on what the truth was.

As painful as the truth might be, it’s better than feeling like a friend was deliberately dishonest.  We easily forgive and trust again with people who are immediate, open and able to explain where they are at.

trying to do ‘right’ leads to falseness, honesty leads to emotional intimacy.

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks, and then was set off again reading this article on moral relativism at nytimes this morning.

In the big world, I’m staunchly a moral absolutist.

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You know, I should give credit to:  I learned about honesty in relationships from Young, who reminds me at least every couple of days that everything would be easier if I’d just be more direct with people. I keep trying, but it’s a process.

Posted by:brook delorme

4 replies on “morality? honesty?

  1. I think it all boils down to the difference between “moral” and merely “legal”. Most things that infringe on others’ freedoms are illegal in our society anyway. But there are plenty of things that are legal but are not compassionate, nor generous, nor loyal. Morality goes beyond what’s legal and embraces those behaviors that put others before ourselves. Regarding kindness and cruelty, calling them cultural preferences does not diminish them unless one can say that all cultures are equally valid. For large segments of German society in the 30’s and 40’s, turning in Jews was considered totally OK. I don’t know of a society where mocking a beggar is OK, even if I don’t violate his rights by doing it. If there were such a society, I would not be afraid of calling them morally deficient.

  2. hi John- thanks for writing.
    I think what was going on in germany in the 30s and 40s was clearly in violation of individual freedom; jews who were turned in were ultimately locked up or killed for no reason.
    And there are plenty of societies today that will lock people up or worse for violating what we would consider protected under freedom of speech.

    I think the post I wrote turned out a little clumsy, because while I was more concerned about the effects of moralizing in interpersonal relationships, I mentioned some of the broader aspects of morality.

    and yes, I don’t think verbally mocking anybody is nice or a great way to make friends, but consider it a highly important right to have. One might also ask, if you view this as a moral issue: is political satire immoral? In some countries, it’s illegal, because they view it as immoral (and potentially disruptive of course.)

    So, I probably should have more clearly focused on what I was concerned with- interpersonal morality, and left the bigger world stuff out, for now ;)

    1. Yes, agreed. If anybody starts moralizing about little interpersonal preferences, that’s just trivializing the whole concept. Your one wacky acquaintance with the food and wardrobe preferences surely seems to fit that bill.

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