“Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.”
-Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
A month or so ago, it came to my attention that someone in my social circle disapproved of a life choice I’d made, one that frankly means quite a lot to me. The news was relayed to me by a mutual friend, who dismissed the negative judgment, quickly pointing out the hypocrisy of the source. I’m keeping this deliberately vague so as to not get my informant in trouble or cause unnecessary social discord (just say no to drama llama husbandry!). Besides, the exact nature of what was said isn’t ultimately important.
What matters is that despite rebuffing the criticism aloud, privately I dwelled on it, dissected the situation, trying to figure out what would possess my friend to judge me so harshly, to impose “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” on my life, a life (like any other) that despite the illusion of transparency is ultimately inscrutable and full of context that is easily missed.
When I spoke with Skyspook about it, he agreed but said the speculation was pointless, and I was just serving to drive myself crazy and would do best to let it go.
I found myself wanting to speak to this person about what was said about me, not out of anger, but out of genuine curiosity. I couldn’t even begin to understand the reasoning behind what was said. I could come up with possible explanations, but all of them were ultimately inconsistent with my perception of this person’s moral temperament and ethical framework.
But again I didn’t want to get the informant in trouble or stir up conflict between me and the source of criticism.
So I sat and stewed and tried, unsuccessfully, to forget.
And then yesterday I was reading the book I quote at the beginning of this entry (it’s an awesome read!), and suddenly, it became clearer as to why it didn’t matter, why I should just move the heck on already: It’s likely that he/she doesn’t even know why he/she feels that way about me. Probably got a gut reaction like “uh oh, that’s no good” and then if there was any logical case to be made, he/she constructed it after the fact to come up with an explanation consistent with his/her values – i.e., he/she might not even know WHY he/she disapproves of what I did, and even if I did go to him/her, I might not get the most accurate reflection of what he/she does know due to his or her defensiveness, etc.
Basically, what finally really sunk in on a deeper level was that I was asking questions that didn’t necessarily have answers that could be known, and even if those answers could be known, they weren’t necessarily meaningful anyway.
I feel much lighter this morning.