Absolutes and binaries

Someone asked me once why Anna Karenina is widely regarded to be one of ‘the most magnificent of heroines’ when she cheated on her husband. ‘It’s not so simple,’ I told him. It is and it isn’t. You know, it’s not right. Cheating is dishonest and damaging no matter which way you spin it, or however you romanticise it. It shouldn’t be condoned, even when it might be forgiven. And at the same time, love is love. Joy is joy. (You know, I believe you can control with whom and when you fall in love, but that’s for another entry.) Anna may be immoral, but she is brave, enduring, compassionate, full of humanity, and (dare I say it) devoted.

People are terrible and complicated, but they are still deserving. Everyone has a story to tell. ‘Everyone’s got their own stuff.’ It might be a tragic story of circumstance, or life may be unfairly good to some of us, but shouldn’t everyone be given the benefit of the doubt? I don’t think it’s entirely useful to hold on to absolutes, to impose a particular worldview on others, even if it is commonly articulated or collectively agreed upon. It’s not always divided so clearly into binary opposites either. It’s not always good vis-a-vis bad. Creation vs. destruction. Helpful vs. harmful.

I like to think of things on a spectrum. Shades of grey (haha.) And yet, even this analogy breaks down in the face of certain peculiarities. What about pain? How does one measure pain on a scale? Am I supposed to feel less pain or ashamed of my pain if your cause is more worthy of hurt? Is my pain negated by a greater kind of suffering?

I’m not trying to advocate moral relativism, though. I believe there’s good and there’s evil. The tolerance of all things leads to the tolerance of intolerance.

But isn’t it always a good thing to suspend judgment, to avoid pigeon-holing people? Ultimately, I believe that we should always engage in mental activities to expand our understanding of people and things. Not practise philosophy, though that is always welcome and interesting. But something as small as not writing someone off based on their appearance or mannerisms or rumours we hear. Or reading, because our understanding, tolerance and identification with fictional characters is one of the best ways of understanding and loving ourselves and others.

Ha, how typical of me to arrive at the conclusion to love storytelling and fiction yet again. But, you know, to the person reading this… I just wish we would learn to judge a little less and love a little more, especially in the age of tabloids and excessive exhibitionism.

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