The relationship that connects action to integrity and possibility is driving me nuts these days. It’s a bugaboo in pretty much every dimension of my life, personal and professional.
Some conventional wisdom on action:
– Do the right thing, even when futile.
– Right action implies right inaction (“Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”)
– Fight to the bitter end for what you want and believe.
– If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
– Mature people exercise restraint and consideration.
– Quit while you’re ahead.
– Never give up, success is the outcome of a battle of wills.
…and so on.
These are all either subtly or strongly at odds with one another.
This isn’t about courage, it’s about decision-making. When is it right to stop?
I suppose this is the battle between idealism and pragmatism all over again in different drag, something that’s been at issue nationally this election season. But it’s a real puzzle in every case, and if you see enough cases in your life, it begins to feel like there is a deeper ethical question underneath it all.
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On a separate but somehow not unrelated note, truth is a tricky beast, because it can also be destructive and painful to real people.
When the truth is likely to bring someone (or even several someones) down, is it better to “do no harm” and to “have compassion” or is it better to engage in “tough love” and “say what needs to be said” because “real friends tell you the truth?”
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I suppose I’m wanting more from reality than it can give?
The way I’m asking these questions is certainly tied to concerns about outcomes. I can see the argument that what I need to do is decide on the “right” choice and do it in each case, whatever my personal philosophy may be, and let the chips fall where they may. That you can’t control reality.
But then, if there’s no concern for outcomes, what’s the point in choosing one thing over another, or in having a personal philosophy anyway?
And I can see a way in which this could also be framed in terms of scale, i.e. are we deciding based on short-term or long-term goods, or on individual or collective goods? (And of course, in both cases, there are many spaces in between).
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I am having trouble working these things out. Discussions in the abstract are easy, but actually deciding what to do in the moment proves, the older I get, to be ever more harrowing, with much more room to second-guess myself about the decision afterward.
Adulthood is hard.
I need to read more philosophy.