moral responsibility

an unreliable truth

As our country’s elections unfolded recently I witnessed vitriolic glee as one side attacked the other genuinely believing their position to be right and true. It got me wondering how such opposing ideologies can simultaneously exist?

The focus of each party's policies (in many cases) were framed by how they would benefit the individual and their nuclear family. This paradigm of individual gain over our wider society's welfare seems to go largely unquestioned (and as a friend laments, ‘is the neo-liberal agenda’). Where is the call to our higher selves; to think not of our own direct and immediate benefit but to make sacrifices for the betterment of future generations; for the health of our planet; for the care of our neighbour? Humanity has a great capacity for altruism but too often our governments are grooming their citizens’ basest motivations.

All faiths espouse generosity and compassion as a fundamental tenet but more often than not these fail to be reflected in the electoral outcomes that influence the provision of resources. JFK’s famous words, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” seem too corny for today's cynical world but would be an interesting reframe of the lolly scramble that is current politics. Individual security, fear of change and patriarchal bias has translated in the polling booth to a quick tick for our personal advantage and what is familiar. But these short-sighted gains ultimately cost us. Inequality degrades hope and creates outsiders who have no motivation to abide by the laws of a society that has excluded them through entrenched poverty, inadequate housing and under resourced education/health systems and which continue abuses resulting from the effects of marginalisation and a core sense of unworthiness. These costs are not only fiscal but I believe spiritual for when we withhold the resources to help those in need our hearts do not believe our minds reasoning.

The stumbling block to changing people’s minds are the filters of influence and experience that cloud what we consciously and unconsciously allow ourselves to see. I experienced this recently as I tried to locate an unknown fellow student I’d been assigned to work with - she was late, lost and hadn’t contributed to the work. As I waited I noticed my irritation rising. When we eventually met my irritation was replaced by humour and openness as I realised ‘Nan’ the young Asian woman I was expecting, was in fact ‘Nan’ a young Asian man. I’d been attributing thoughts of selfishness and disrespect to this woman’s lateness. When I saw ‘she’ was in fact a ‘he’ my judgements relaxed and become, ‘he’s a guy’, young guys are disorganised, it’s not personal’. Neither story was fair or accurate and it was disturbing and revealing to see the biases and expectations I impose on my view of gender, situations and reality. Likewise in our society and media we seem willing to give certain people a pass and hold others to unreasonably high standards. It calls into question the veracity of the beliefs we hold so fiercely and our ability to see anything clearly.

Is there are a way to check the reliability of my own truth? The writer Elizabeth Gilbert suggested in a podcast to “test everything against love". If my idea of truth is in any way defensive, attacking, unkind, self-serving, aggressive, grasping and so on, then likely I’m coming from my head and its disguising stories of fear and protection. If there is warmth, open-heartedness, generosity, maybe vulnerability, maybe discomfort even, then likely love is in the house and truth will follow (or at least compassion). Perhaps as was told to ‘The Little Prince’,  “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly”.

-am