“Only a sith deals in absolutes!” -Obi Wan Kenobi
With all the outrage over the recent government deadlock one would think we might be more open to compromise in our lives and less prone to the pitfalls of absolutist natures. Unfortunately, this desire for our government to reach a consensus does not translate to the personal views of most individuals. We cry out for compromise, but what we really want is for people to see things our way. This strict inflexibility translates into all facets of life from our religion to our professional lives. What needs to be understood is why this obvious contradiction exists and what we can do to remedy it.
Growing up, we are immediately indoctrinated with this mixed messaging. We are told it is important to get along with one another and we can not always get what we want. However, at the same time are presented a very black and white set of rules which we must follow, no questions asked. While these rules are there to encourage us to grow up as fully-functioning adults, when they are presented as ultimate truth, a seed of respect for blind authority is planted. Coupled with the insistence that sometimes we need to sacrifice what we want for others, we are given a very conflicting view of the world. A sentiment that translates itself to an odd mix of absolutism and pseudo consensus.
As we get older we start to question the rules we were told to blindly follow in our younger years. We rebel against our parents, question authority, and embark on countless activities we probably shouldn’t. On the other hand, because many of the ideas of compromise we were taught in our youth come from the same place as the rules we are fighting against we reject it and feel as though the world is out to get us. However we still want people to work with us, it just becomes a more self-serving sort of cooperation. Fortunately, as we mature we lose this narrow world view and replace it with a unique individualism.
The absolutes of our adulthood are shaped by our experiences. For some of us, our religious faith causes us to reject any viewpoint different from the dogma we subscribe to. Even when it becomes apparent certain stances held are not actually in line with the core of what we believe. Furthermore, our political philosophies, usually formulated either by our parents or during our college years, cause us to see the world as full of right and wrong decisions. For this reason, religion and politics tend to be the most divisive topics of discussion, leading to conversations that accomplish nothing and leave everyone angry.
What do we do in a world of seeming absolutes? First, we need to accept the fact we may not always have the right answer. That some of our most deep seeded values may need to be reevaluated. Even if we find the absolute to be the proper path, acceptance of a lesser middle path may be necessary. Finally, we must be able to question both our own and the world’s truths. Only by allowing multiple points of view a chance to shine, will we be better able to understand the different shades of gray that make up the world.