Friday, June 25, 2010

What Has No Opposite?

Being right is not all it’s cracked up to be. Think about all the things people argue about. Make a quick list of five things. Let’s see – here are the first five things I thought of.

1. Whether we should have a single-payer healthcare system
2. Whether a certain misbehaving NFL quarterback should be suspended
3. Whether any particular religion is the only way to God
4. Who really discovered America
5. Whether the toilet paper should roll over the top or from underneath

Ann Landers devoted a number of columns to this last one. No kidding.

Many questions that people spend a lot of time arguing about don’t have an objectively discernible right answer. Take the God question, for example. How can people be so sure that their way is the only way? My mom said once with great conviction that something was against the moral laws of the universe. Wow, I thought, how does my mom know what the moral laws of the entire universe are?

Sometimes even when there is a right answer, it doesn’t stop the argument. For example, the Nazis really did kill millions of people. And Obama really was born in Hawaii. But the arguments continue.

We are so conditioned to think about issues in terms of right and wrong. This can lead to unnecessary anxiety. My daughter is always the last one to order in a restaurant. She is simply paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice. Instead of thinking that there might be several right choices, that is, choices that she would enjoy, she is convinced that there is one and only one choice that will make her meal a pleasant experience.

For some reason, we are uncomfortable with the possibility of multiple right answers. In an article in O Magazine, Martha Beck calls this being “on the horns of a dual-emma.” It makes our little synapses sizzle and short out. Our world becomes more fluid. We lose our sense of security. It can be terrifying.

But, as Pema Chodron says in When Things Fall Apart, if we can catch ourselves just when we start to make ourselves or others right or wrong, if we can tolerate uncertainty, we can open up new possibilities and opportunities. “Our ancient habitual patterns will start to soften, and we’ll begin to see the faces and hear the words of people who are talking to us.”

1 comment:

  1. A comment emailed from a reader who asked me to post this -- "Wonderful to read (one feels so right reading it!) and complex to live."


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