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Day 12 Legalist/moralist questions about "shoulds"

Discussion in 'Structured Educational Program' started by SB, Feb 14, 2013.

  1. SB

    SB Peer Supporter

    I am a legalist/moralist, and this personality trait has a huge stressful, guilt-inducing, anxiety-inducing, and probably pain-inducing impact on my life. I've decided that I won't have pets until we have a place that is probably 3+ bedroom + outdoor area and near to beautiful places to run the dog. I feel like people shouldn't decide to "own" (have) pets primarily to fill their needs for affection etc and instead must consider the particular species's need for "exercise, discipline, and affection" (as Cesar Milan says).

    I also feel anxiety and guilt related to: wasting food, driving (emissions, consuming fossil fuels), ordering items online that require shipping (air or far away ground, bringing reusable bags to grocery store, bringing tupperware for leftovers at restaurant, reusing printing paper, consuming eggs, dairy, and leather, etc.

    Being vegetarian is also a moralist behavior... I'm vegetarian for the sake of the animals (I don't mind them dying, but I hate the idea of them in pain) and environment and not for health or financial reasons.


    I even respect parking rules, adhere to landlord rules, etc.

    I try to vote and participate (minimally) in civic duties / democracy.

    I might also consider trying weed if it were legal and less of an outcast-type thing to do.

    I donate a substantial portion of my income to impoverished people who will greatly benefit by it. When I try to think of why I do this and how much of my income I want to give away, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around. I know suspect that if I were extremely poor, I'd greatly appreciate rich people's generosity. I've also read that if a certain percentage of the world's richest people donated even a small amount of their money to the poorest people, we could lift the world out of poverty, bringing education to masses, reducing crime, and presumably making the world a much better place. But this is so abstract that I can't connect it back to my individual decisions. If I spent money on myself and my loved ones hedonistically, (I'm reasonably sure) I'd enjoy my life more and my love ones would like me more. If I stopped donating anything, no poor person would notice. So my donations are like voting... they are unnoticeable alone (and therefore difficult to defend/justify)... but something about their essence makes me want to donate and vote... as if it's the "right" thing to do and as if I'm a person who does the "right" things. I think I've been out of college too long to have the moral philosophy front of mind. But I think Peter Singer and others convinced me that if I start with the belief that humans have a moral obligation to do a very small (and to themselves inconsequential) favor to someone whose safety/health/well-being it will greatly improve, and if time and distance factors don't decrease the impact of the trade (e.g. I can donate via computer whenever I want, and it will later improve people's lives thousands of miles away, and this is as good or better than me personally needing to visit someone at a particular time and help him/her physically), then one might say that doing so is a moral obligation. Ignoring the question of amount for the moment: not donating at all would mean that I either said "fuck logic and rationality; I'm choosing to be a hypocrite and will go spend my money on myself and not justify it with logic because I don't care if someone calls me immoral for it and I'm not gonna even bother thinking about whether I think I'm being immoral..." ....or....it would mean that I'm saying the time and distance (from a would-be donation recipient) does affect morality. I.e. it's immoral to ignore a beggar on my street but is not immoral to ignore millions of impoverished people abroad.

    Even as an atheist with no clear reason for trying to lead a moral life, I hesitate to say "fuck morality". And it would be hard for me to make the case that time and distance matters (though of course it's so much easier to be reminded of needy people when they are right in front of you, and it's tempting to donate to them because it's rewarding to see the positive feedback and to have 3rd parties witness your goodness).

    So I don't know where I stand. But the moralist/legalist tendency in me defaults toward doing as much good as I can handle. (Really? That can't be true, because then I'd be donating nearly 100% and being way less hedonistic. So my more honest thought is that I probably donate the minimum I can donate without feeling crippling guilt. Where does the guilt come from?)

    To circle back to the broader topic of this journal post, I want to ask myself those questions about all the stuff I mentioned earlier. Where does the guilt come from? Why do I feel that certain actions are obligatory? Why do I say "should" so much? Where is the should coming from?

    I've tried to notice myself saying "should" in the past couple days. I say it a lot. In monitoring how much I say it, I've noticed myself trying to avoid it sometimes. I've tried reconceiving the thought / sentence to structure something more as "I want" or "we could". It will be interesting to see whether I keep noticing this and keep swapping out and end up thinking about fewer "shoulds"/obligations ... and what that will mean for who I am as a person and how much anxiety/pain I feel.
     
  2. Leslie

    Leslie Well known member

    I don't know where the guilt comes from but I do know what it's like to be consumed by it. It has almost completely consumed me more times that I care to remember. Fairly recently it took me many hours to remove a guilt-tied knot in my stomach from having to throw away 1/4 cup of green beans that had been in the refrigerator to long to be safe to eat.

    Are you familiar with any of Byron Katie's work? I read one of her books recently and her steps for disecting a thought have helped me quite a bit. You can find them on her website www.thework.com. It's pretty similar to what you describe doing in your final paragraph but she has you turn the thought around any way you can think of to see if you find turnarounds that are as true or truer for you than your original thought. It was very interesting and so far pretty helpful for me.
     
  3. SB

    SB Peer Supporter

    Thank you for the recommendation!
     

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