Thursday, September 18, 2014

If I Like Something, You Have to Like It Too, Right?

Years ago I became alarmed when I found myself on a seemingly nonstop weight gain trajectory. I radically altered my diet and began exercising. I opted for a diet focused on complex carbohydrates, a little protein, and very little fat. (This was all the rage at the time.) I also started doing aerobic fitness walking for an hour each day. The excess pounds melted away so that I dropped 60 lbs over the space of a year.

I was so pleased with my results and so certain that my diet regimen was the best thing on the face of the earth (and certain that it was divinely approved — see D&C 89:10-16) that I became convinced that everyone else should eat as I did. I mean, why wouldn't they?

In fact, I made quite a pest of myself to family and friends as I evangelized about the dietary regimen that I was convinced was the right diet for everyone everywhere. My good wife gently and patiently (with great care over the space of many months) helped me understand how obnoxious I had become. I eventually backed off. But it still took a long time for family and friends to relax their guard around me.

We currently have some family members that refuse to understand that others have different tastes than themselves. Or if they do understand this, they think that those with differing tastes are on the wrong path and need to be redeemed. This can frequently be seen in matters such as food or music. For example, one child that dislikes cheese is frequently harangued by several others that think that it is one of the greatest foods ever invented. Why can't they leave him alone?

Why is it that we sometimes badger others over matters of simple preference? Humans seem to have a boundless capacity for failing to appreciate diversity of opinions about what ought to be mundane matters.

Perhaps our unrecognized insecurity makes differing points of view seem like a threat to our own thinking on a given matter. We are so subconsciously horrified by the idea that we might be wrong that we insist that others that don't adopt our views are misguided or even evil. This sentiment can regularly be seen among sports fans that support rival teams.

Rational people ought to be able to recognize that very rarely do any of us operate on anything close to perfect understanding on any matter. Even all of us together often lack a complete understanding most matters. We all have only bits and pieces of any issue well nailed down. Isn't it possible that different opinions often result from the blind men describing an elephant paradigm? In many (most?) cases humility should rule.

Of course, there are limits to the 'to each his own' line of thinking. While it may be perfectly acceptable for different people to prefer different automobile brands, musical styles, fields of study, clothing styles, hobbies, and occupations, it wouldn't do to consider a penchant for murdering other people to be an acceptable method of self expression. Those that inflict real harm on others must be dealt with.

But in many cases we insist on being tyrants over far lesser matters. Our perceived good intentions blind us to our own infringements on others. Christian thinker C.S. Lewis famously wrote:
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."
It is one thing to invite others to willingly accept our views. It is quite another to insist that our views are so correct that others must alter their own thinking to conform with ours. Especially reprehensible is when we seek to enforce our views through coercive power. While there are certainly times when this is necessary (such as when locking up murderers), appeal to coercive control is far too often undertaken in cases where diversity of opinion and/or action ought to be accepted, even if it annoys us.

Regardless of how right we think we are and how much we think that our ideas would benefit and/or protect others, improper use of coercive action to get others to conform to our ideas constitutes unrighteous dominion (D&C 121:39). Our desire to help others turns into an exercise of power. Why are we so blind to the insidiousness of our personal evil in such situations — even to the point of believing ourselves to be doing good as we act wickedly?

This is one of humanity's great deceits. It is the reverse of the Savior's pattern of inviting others to "come and follow me" (Matthew 19:21). And we all suffer from it on occasion. Sometimes we insist that such an approach is morally acceptable if we can get enough people to vote as we wish. We may fool ourselves, but might does not make right.

May each of us become more aware of the times we seek power over others, even (especially?) when we think we are doing it for their own good. And may we then choose better.

1 comment:

rteywerhwsrtuy said...

This was a really great article. I really do believe that people can think and do the things they want without forcing it on others. At the same time lines and boundaries need to be set so, like you said, someone can just go murder someone because they want to. Something like that is just pure evil, and totally unacceptable in my eyes.