The Ethics of Absolutes

Yesterday someone asked me if people should always report things they think are unethical or wrong.

Given who asked me this, it really was not a surprising question.  This person is an extremist, absolutist in almost every situation which occurs.  The words always and never are the boundaries of existence.  No compromise.  Take no enemies.  Win.

What happens when you live life like this?  I don’t think you can experience joy.  I also think that people like this are intrinsically unhappy and have a poor sense of the I and the thou.  I know this person has few friends, and the few who are willing to befriend have to put up with a lot of crap.

Life is a series of adaptations and negotiations.  What benefits me will benefit you.  What benefits you will benefit me.  We both win.

In politics, moderates and “evil” liberals look to compromise.  In totalitarian regimes, the people in power are right, and the rules are ones they make, and they are always correct.  In far right politics, there is only one way to do things, which is the way of that rightist, and everyone else is wrong, and budge thou shalt not, even if everything else goes to hell and comes to a screeching halt and people die.  Win!


Questions like this never cease to fascinate and trouble me.  Mulling them over takes time.  People who are so extreme are very brittle – rattle their world and they blow up.  They just cannot adapt gracefully, but struggle and fight the process of change.  For them, compromise and understanding of another’s reality is not in their Survival Handbook.  To do so is to admit failure, to be unsuccessful, to lose, be defeated, to have no personal power.

We all need to have boundaries, take a stance every now and then, stick to our guns on some things to survive – but an inability to adapt to daily fluctuations is disastrous in terms of interpersonal relationships.  It’s a lifetime of failure and a slow death of the self as good and wonderful.

Experiencing such people can be toxic if you do not see it.  I don’t most of the time.

When I encounter such people, I wonder about my own values and think I must be amoral as I am not adamant, do not have a strong sense of right and wrong, and am laissez-faire about most things.  Yes, there are times when I have strong opinions – but I don’t expect the world to frog march to my outlook.

My locus of control is internal.  I know that I can let those with the ethics of absolutes rule my life – or not.  Freeing myself from their poison is hard, but necessary.  I pity them, resent them for the hell they cause, but emerge with yet another perspective of human nature, and hopefully a bit more adept at recognizing them before I even encounter them so I can take a path to avoid them.

Lazy me.

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2 thoughts on “The Ethics of Absolutes”

  1. Wow! This was a great post and really resounded with me as I have a couple of people in my life right now who are VERY absolute. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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