One of the most insightful singer/song writers of my time is a duo of lesbian women, the Indigo Girls. Most gay and lesbian people I have met in my life demonstrate a good deal of introspection and empathy. Most people who are gay realize this fact about themselves during puberty. This is a period where individuals just want to fit in to their peer groups, yet gay people have to deal with being different in a relatively significant way. When cultural rules are at odds with what one feels is right, individuals need to dive deep into introspection to derive the ethical truth inherent in the situation. Gay individuals have to develop a good ethical compass at an early age; or risk years of unnecessary self loathing if they internalize negative societal norms that tell them being gay is sinful. So it is no big surprise that gay people are generally introspective, liberal thinkers. I would not be surprised if some of our founding fathers were gay. Does that last statement make you upset? Stop and ask yourself why?
One of my favorite songs of the Indigo Girls is “Closer to Fine.” The songs tells the story of personal growth through seeking various sources of wisdom. The individual in the song seeks insight between right and wrong. On their search they find ignorance and fear to be boundless, enlightenment hard to find, comfort in fear until exhausted by it, and balance through letting go of a certain amount of control. They look to diagnosis problems, seek perspective in nature, observe the innocent, seek knowledge through scripture, learn through physical trials, try obedience to authority, etc.
This song is about trying to make sense of the world by seeking “thee answer” from trusted sources of knowledge. The song reveals that “thee answer” is not out there to be found, it is discovered within through introspection.
The key line is, “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.”
The idea that there is one source of truth or way to understand things is a fool’s errand. There are many sources of wisdom and it’s wise to seek as many as possible. That said, you gain enlightenment through “knowing thy self.” In other words, we need to use introspection to derive the ethical truth. External sources of wisdom my help us achieve much needed paradigm shifts. The best way to question your world view is to engage with others that do not share your view of things. Introspection is the only way to gain a deep understanding of ethics. The more you question yourself by asking the basic question, “How would I like it if that was done to me,” the better you will get at evaluating ethical conditions.
Living an ethical life is difficult, and societies being composed of many individuals are hard pressed to get most of it right. Some current ideas and past ideas are good, some are bad. The only way cultures get better is to hold on to the good and reject the bad. No one culture has figured it all out although some are clearly on better paths than others. Cultures should evolve over time to become better. That being said, there is no guarantee they will. The only way to ensure that positive forward progress is made is through knowledge and understanding of ethics.
The ten commandments are not an ethical compass; nor are ancient text. The only source you need for ethical guidance is a liberated mind, and a continued urge to seek truth and greater understanding. You need to liberate your mind of all the cultural conditioning you have had since you were born. Some, if not much of it may be good stuff but to determine if it is good, you need to imagine it does not exist. You have to use your innate abilities, your knowledge of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, and your ability for empathy. These are the only guides you need to derive the ethically right decision in any circumstance.
It is easy and you have known how to do it your whole life. The one thing maybe you did not know how to do is shut off all the crap that you have absorbed over the years. That is the hard part, but to quote John Lennon, It’s easy if you try.” You just have to be brave enough to try.