I have a tendency to think about things in a way and to an extent that I think is probably not normal. ("She thinks is probably not normal?" I can hear some of you already. Yeah, yeah.) I can't help but analyze ideas and the words used to express them. Part of that is just my nature, and part of it is because of my attempts at work to find a way to help my students crack open a seemingly incomprehensible text and find meaning. And then, to a certain extent, it's because of my not-normal tendencies, and my attempts to figure out how I actually think and why it's not really like the way a lot of other people think (see how that works?). Don't get me wrong--I'm not trying to make myself out as some misunderstood great mind. I'm mostly acknowledging that yes, I know I'm hard to make sense of and, as a result, hard for some people to get along with. But hey, at least I talk about everything that pops into my head!
But that's not my purpose here. It's actually just that I've been thinking about something for a while, and trying to solidify a particular idea, and I feel like I'm closer to doing that now than I ever have been. So of course, being me, I have to talk about it.
Because I'm not religious, or even spiritual in any recognizable way, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the basis for morality; in general, for everyone, but also my own in particular. And really, at times I have found it very tempting to believe that nothing matters. Not in an angry, rationalizing-my-own-wrong-doings kind of way, but in a coldly rational way, because of course I know that "things fade" and "alternatives exclude." In other words, we have a finite number of options available to us, choosing them limits us even further, and none of the choices we make will lead to anything lasting anyway. I know that's a depressing set of ideas to a lot of people, but not to me, and that's too long a conversation to have here. Nor is it the thing I wanted to say right now, which is this:
I have decided that there are only two real things in the world: human happiness, and human suffering. And that everything we do contributes to one or the other, and sometimes both, though not usually in equal measure. I'm not talking about superficial degrees of happiness and suffering. The best way I can explain it is, not surprisingly, through a parenting-related example. As a parent, when I say I want my children to be happy, that doesn't mean I want them to have every material thing or even every experience that they desire, and likewise, I don't think they really suffer when they don't get everything they want. I hope that my children feel safe and loved and wanted and understood, that their basic needs are met so that they are free to spend time and energy on things like creativity and learning and love. I hope they have a sense of belonging, of place and family, and that their lives will afford them more joy than sorrow. And I think that's all the happiness that any of us can hope for. So then the lack of any or most of those things I just listed is what I mean by suffering; a constant striving to meet the most basic physical and emotional needs.
And if I know that, as I feel, finally, that I do, then that belief has to be the basis for my morality. In each thing that I do, I have to try to create more happiness than suffering, and when possible, to transform the latter into the former. Knowing that is the easy part. The hard part, I think, is always being able to tell the two apart.