Curiosity is terminal

Friday, 30 December 2011

Right and Wrong and The Imposition of One's Will on Another

A thing  I wonder about/struggle with is the right or wrong of our opinions. I have always tended to skew left in my beliefs- I'm good with taxes that pay for us to all have roads and streets and schools and libraries, fire and police protection. I'm okay with socialized medicine so that we can all have medical care, and socialized education. It seems to me that these things are equalizers, which strikes me as a good thing. But one can't help but to hear a lot of opinions to the contrary, that we should all just work harder and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and we should individually pay for everything that we use in society and not have to pay for things we don't use. And I frequently feel like these opinions sound... well, stupid.  But the people with whom I disagree are just as convinced of the rightness of their opinions as I am of mine.  And from the slagging that goes back and forth in the comments sections of news sites and blogs alike, it is clear that the people who don't agree with me think I am... well, stupid. But I don't think I am stupid. And I notice that lots of  'them' are not stupid either. So is it a question of right or wrong? Can we both be right? Both wrong? Are we all both right and wrong? And how do you know? Is it an answerable question?

I recently was listening to a radio program on Skeptically Speaking called The Paradox of Choice, an interview with Barry Schwartz, psychologist and author of book by the same name. In it he describes two kinds of people, maximizers, who are always looking to make the best choice, and satisfizers, who are just looking to make a choice and can go with it once they have done so. Maximizers agonize over choices, and Schwartz gives lots of examples of mundane, trivial choices we are forced to make daily- such as which pair of jeans to buy or which checkout line to join at the grocery store - that people really do agonize over. He says, in general, maximizers tend not to be as happy as satisfizers. He talks about how the difficulty of making the right choice can paralyze people into not really making decisions, letting what I call the default happen. This used to plague me. I always had terrible buyers regret, and I often would waffle. Then one day, I read a line in a book that went something like this: "There are no wrong decisions. You make your decision and you make it right." Now obviously that is somewhat too simplistic for some decisions, but for most things, I think it helps a lot. The program got me thinking about our career choices, and I thought of a good friend who has a job in a hospital, doing something called sterile processing, which I understand means she cleans the various tools and instruments used in surgeries and other procedures. She is perfectly happy and is not troubled  by the notion of a job being more than just a job. It is a complete means to an end for her. It is not her life. It is the means by which she lives her happy and productive life - if asked to define herself, I am certain that her outdoor activities - hiking, biking, running, camping  would figure large in that definition, and her work would not enter into it. On the other hand, I define myself first as a carpenter. I love construction. I love having my hands in the raising of buildings. I love being able to pour a basement, frame a skeleton and then do the drywall and finishing to make a house out of the project. I get a lot from my work, both physically and mentally. It is satisfying to me, and I personally need to feel satisfied in my work. There are a zillion things I could do for a living that would drive me batty in half a day. My friend is able to separate herself from batty/not batty and just get a job done. I don't think my friend is either wrong or stupid, and I am sure she does not think those things of me. We are different, and perfectly able to tolerate one another's differences in this regard.
I have a couple of people in my life who make decisions based on their expectation that others will comply with all their requests. They make plans based on the assumption that their suggestion for an activity will be accepted without question. I think of them as imposing their wills on others. Now, not everything they want to do is unreasonable or even unattractive, but I find myself resisting sometimes, based more on delivery than actual message.
Is there a connection here? Perhaps the sometimes visceral disagreement I feel with people of other political and philosophical views is that feeling of the imposition of one's will over my own? And am I trying to impose my ideals on a world not really interested? Is it a question of delivery rather than message? Are some of us maximizers, assuming there is one answer, and trying to make us all fit into that mindset, while some are satisfizers, able to just take a path and make it the right one?

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