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.
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.
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.