Picking up from my last post about judgment, I am going to write about “being right” versus “being wrong,” for I see the perception of this duality as having a profound effect on the human experience at both the individual and collective levels.
What does it mean to be “right” and be “wrong?” I am certainly aware that many of us are taught to know “right from wrong” as we grow up. Yet, I have noticed that most adults that purportedly know right from wrong base that knowledge on some external source, such as the Bible or some other code of ethics. It is as if knowing what is right and what is wrong is merely an exercise in memorizing rules, rather than truly understanding the spirit of this dichotomy.
This exercise reminds me of a pattern that I observed while in public school. I remember that there was a huge emphasis on memorization, especially in earlier grades. Now I have no problem with memorization, in general, because it can make life easier. It’s nice to be able rely on my memorization to do simple multiplication in my head, instead of reaching for a calculator. I am thankful that my memory is sufficient so that I can write without the aid of a spell checker most of the time. The problem I have with memorization in school has to do with memorizing facts that are not needed in everyday life so that one could pass tests and be deemed a “good student.” Do we really need to memorize the capitals of all fifty states or the exact dates of various historical events? I don’t think so, despite being skilled at memorizing both. The public (and I imagine private) education system seems to confuse memorization with understanding.
I saw this pattern over and over again in school, especially in the area of mathematics and science. Some of my classmates struggled in these subjects because they were trying to “memorize their way through class” instead of understanding the underlying essence of what was being taught. I even remember witnessing a math teacher of mine struggle to teach her class because, I suspect, she didn’t really understand the subject she was teaching!
Such experiences have suggested to me over the years that our education system would best serve us by teaching us how to think instead of merely memorizing a bunch of facts. Thinking is accomplished by asking questions and attempting to answer them. It is encouraged in students by observing mentors who know how to ask pointed questions. As it turns out, the scientific method is all about asking questions and attempting to answer them.
The same cannot be said when it comes to religions, which are supposedly moral and ethical systems of thought and behavior. Formal religions generally are based on ancient texts and rituals that are deemed as sacred. The texts are read as if they were a book of rules, not to be questioned but merely to be followed in order to bring about some sort of harmony. Similarly a religion’s rituals are to be performed without question in order to live more harmoniously. As a result, it could be said that religion encourages people to remain separate from their sense of right and wrong because they are to follow the dictates of the their religion’s texts and traditions, instead of approaching morality from a more “scientific” point of view and asking such pointed questions as who benefits from a particular behavior or why is the behavior performed in the first place.
When a scientist explores any part of the universe, he is not supposed to carry prejudices and preconceived notions. It is inappropriate to judge phenomena or their explanations as “right” or “wrong” because to do so would display an arrogance that colors perception. The closest that any scientist can get to being definitive is through deriving theories that are repeatedly supported by experimentation. Yet, genuine scientists are humble enough to know that there may come a day when a previously successful theory is overturned by further experimentation.
I think that we could benefit from approaching ethics and morality from a less dogmatic and more “scientific” manner. By doing this, we would begin to understand the behavior of animals, who seem to act more morally than humans. Anyone who has taken the time to observe animals will notice that they display an amazing connection with others of their species and with other species, too. It is as if they truly understand the Golden Rule. I think we humans could also experience this profound connection with ourselves and other creatures if we merely give ourselves the permission to grow up and explore who we are instead of continually stifling our ability to grow and explore by blindly following the dictates of those who are long dead, be they religious figures or founding fathers of political systems.
It appears to me that the most widespread moral and ethical systems in practice today stifle a person’s natural urge to explore. The rules that one has to follow squelch one’s emotional insecurities so that they end up projecting those insecurities on others, producing conflict which gets in the way of beneficial progress. This conflict comes down to the projector viewing himself as “right” for following the rules while the “projectee” is seen as “wrong” for violating the rules.
I have observed many times that nobody likes to be wrong and everybody likes to be right. What’s wrong with being wrong? Those who are wrong are punished. Those who are right are either relieved from punishment or amply rewarded. Religions often reinforce the punishment/reward mentality with notions such as an afterlife in hell/heaven.
What would it look like if a person were to free himself from the belief that one is either right or wrong about something? At the very least, he would no longer be afraid of punishment and he also would stop looking for rewards outside of himself. In other words, a confident and secure person sees living as its own reward and that there is ultimately nothing to fear despite living in a mysterious and uncertain world. This same person also would need no emotional and psychological support from others in order to thrive. This type of person would be in a position to view experience with an open mind and an open heart so that he would experience a oneness with others. This oneness, in turn, would serve as the basis of a more mature kind of morality that values the well-being of all. When it comes to understanding the essence of rightness and wrongness, it is quite clear that what is right is what encourages and enhances well-being, while what is wrong discourages and detracts from well-being.
When people are free of judgment to explore who they are, they naturally seek harmonious behavior that encourages the well-being of all. This urge is as basic as the urge to drink water. If animals are like this, doesn’t it make sense that the human animal is like this inherently?