A Brief Addenda on Certainty

I think an obvious argument with respect to my recent post about certainty and right / wrong thinking is captured in the spirit of comments to this old post about getting along and this one about helpful spiritual junctures: if somebody says to me, “hey I think the Holocaust was great,” am I going to respond: “well, that’s fine!”

No, I am not. And it is not my intention to rationalize or otherwise facilitate anybody else’s doing that either.

So I understand the concern and think it bears consideration. I am always in a state of learning; for me there is no other way.

Underlying my argument about resisting certainty and conclusion – especially in the form of arguing for “right” and “wrong” – is the belief that we have the structure of communal beings who are given to cooperation, coordination and communication. In its fullness, this structure brings forth love, the way two banks bring forth a river.

This structure – and the cooperation, coordination and communication it entails – is a) ongoing and b) realized locally. It is a process that we experience in a subjective way. It is a feature of our living

For example, when I was in middle and high school in the late 1970s and early 80s a common slur among young men was to suggest another young man was gay. This happened a lot. I did not understand its application as problematic at that time. Unfortunately, from time to time I participated in it.

I deeply regret that participation, both for the pain it caused folks who were gay or bisexual or questioning their sexual identity, and for the contribution it made to justifying the ongoing use of that unkindness. It was wrong and hurtful.

At some point in my late teens, I realized that this behavior was cruel and irrational and I stopped doing it. As time passed, I began to try and contribute to the bringing forth of a world where nobody did it.

Today, I make inclusivity and dialogue around gender and sexuality and desire a fundament of my teaching and living. I do this imperfectly of course but it is much closer to love than when I was a young man in high school.

I understand that experience as a learning process which happened to Sean wherein a big block to the free, open and inclusive expression of love was undone. I know that a similar process happened to others. That sort of undoing is always a cause for happiness.

I live now in the understanding that we don’t always see those blocks in our living and so we have to go slowly and patiently. As they say, more will be revealed. I was not a bad person when I was sixteen, but I did say and do stupid hurtful things. I did not need to be erased from the Book of Life for that behavior, but I did need to change that behavior, especially in the realm of language.

It seems to me that love obligates me to recognize that I may be saying and doing stupid things now as well . . . I don’t like that but it’s obviously a possibility. What do I gain by ignorance?

The point is, when I meet folks who are racist or homophobic or misogynist – and I do meet them (they are neighbors, family members, students and so forth) – I see them much the way I see high school Sean. Not as a fundamentally bad person but rather as someone in whom the free, open and inclusive expression of love is blocked (for any number of reasons). I feel compassionate; I feel called to be in dialogue with them.

But being in dialogue means saying clearly and explicitly that I do not agree with their position. Saying so is an implicit statement that I am not casting them out in the darkness. I am not erasing them from the Book of Life. I am simply trying to make the case for a gentle, sustainable, open and inclusive expression of love.

This feels consonant with my (ongoing subjective) experience of love – being cooperative, coordinative, communicative, and so forth.

If we do not know what we are doing is hurtful or cruel, then we are not acting with malice. We are behaving unlovingly but our culpability and responsibility are of a different order. Change is still called for, but it has to come via some channel other than gentle confrontation. It’s more in the nature of education.

When we learn that what we are doing is hurtful and cruel, then we are obligated to alter our behavior so that it becomes kinder and more inclusive. If we insist on hurting others, knowing that we are hurting them, then we are working actively against love.

It is important to resist – nonviolently but firmly – those who actively oppose love. Ideally, this resistance begets dialogue. Dialogue is how we teach others – who could be our own self – what love is.

Thus, I consider the Holocaust a vast failure of love and freedom to love, and feel called to work in my own being and in the collective in which my being expresses to try to mitigate against such failures.

Lovingkindness does not mean ignoring or condoning unloving acts and unkind acts and violent acts. Love is always corrective – both in and through us and, by extension, in and through others. Teachers abound, often disguised so as not to appear as formal teachers.

Heinz von Foerster once said that A is better off when B is better off. I think this is a fair description of how to approach love in world of others who do not always agree with us about what love is or how to bring love forth.

Does our behavior – which includes our languaging – promote the welfare of A and B? Or is it more focused on one (us) to the exclusion of the other?

These are good questions, and we are never not helped by asking them over and over, and allowing ourselves to be surprised and disappointed and then inspired by the answers.

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