I get it. Your parents probably counselled you to be a good person. Your teachers probably stuck your sorry ass in detention any time you did something wrong. You probably still hear people say ‘I can’t believe he went ahead with that. That was definitely the wrong decision.’
Fuck those people. Fuck their good but misguided intentions. Anyone who sees the world as right and wrong is long overdue a reality check.
There are no wrong things. There are no right things. There are only things. There are only decisions and consequences. And it’s time we accepted that.
As far as I see it, there are three fundamental reasons that lead people to embrace such a sharp distinction between right and wrong.
The first is our innate but messed up desire to see the world in black and white. It’s understandable – the world would be much easier to understand if everything could go into one of two boxes: good and bad. We’d have no trouble navigating the shitstorm that is daily life if everything came prelabelled as good or bad. We could let the good into our lives and just avoid the bad at all costs. Simple.
It’s a nice idea but it gets us into hot water because it’s a delusion. It’s not based in reality. It doesn’t adequately reflect the fact that most things are part good, part bad. Even if some things are more good than bad, and vice versa. What about everything Hitler did to rebuild the German economy after The First World War left it in tatters? What about Martin Luther King’s extensive womanizing and countless extramarital affairs? Life is more subtle than most movies would have us believe.
The second reason is our equally innate but messed up assumption that what we believe is what everyone else ought to believe. As a seeker of wisdom and truth, why would we believe something that wasn’t categorically true?
Again, in most cases it’s a delusion. A narrow-minded ice cream sundae with a narcissistic cherry on top. Outside of some pretty universal no-nos – rape, murder, drunkenly crashing your ex’s wedding – the relative merits of most things are open to debate. Some people consider infidelity acceptable in some circumstances (see above) – they don’t want to sacrifice a long-term relationship despite the short-term pain. Others don’t agree. Despite what the Internet, Oprah or the Bible might tell you, there’s no hard and fast rule. It’s whatever one individual chooses to believe.
The third and probably most insidious reason is the common belief that by doing the right thing at all times we will be accepted, loved and valued. That there is such a thing as a universal moral code and universal social expectations, and that obeying them is the secret to feeling we belong.
But the logic is screwed up. We don’t respect people who always tow the line, who always say yes, who are afraid to take a stand. We respect people who are brave enough to be themselves, to challenge the social order, to stand up for what they believe. We respect the people who throw a spanner, a wrench, or even the whole fucking tool box in the works. Not because these people are born agitators but because they’ve accepted that keeping the peace is not always the most important thing to strive for. Without these people society, art and technology wouldn’t ever progress. We’re attracted to people who make their own rules.
It’s time we called bullshit on each one of these reasons.
It’s time we started accepting life as it is: a series of decisions we have no accurate means of predicting the actual outcomes of. A shitshow of inevitable highs, lows, successes and fuck ups. We’re making best guesses, but always guesses. We can’t know the impact of the decisions we make. We just have to make them, learn from them good and bad, and try to be a little bit less clueless about making them next time.
Life is not about being perfect or doing the right thing. It’s about progress. It’s about getting shit done and being better at it next time.
Trying to do the right thing all the time is exhausting, debilitating and most of all pointless. It’s not the goal of living – especially for creative people. There are no right or wrong creative choices. Only choices. Only preferences.
The goal of living is to accept yourself, be yourself and influence those around you for the better in the way only you know how. We are not interested in people who do the right thing. We’re interested in people who do their right thing. We’re interested in artists who take a stand by making the art they want to see in the world.
That’s not to say we should go through life doing whatever the fuck we want. That way lies only resentment, alienation and no friends at your birthday party. It’s important to consider how your actions will affect other people, but one person disagreeing with your choice is not a reason not to do it. Name one decision ever that didn’t have someone in the back whining ‘actually that’s a bad idea’. Whatever you write, someone somewhere will tell you they hate it. Cue countless stories about songs some bandmate, producer or executive hated at first that went on to change the world. Worrying about doing everything right and listening to the naysayers who don’t see the value in what you’re doing won’t get you anywhere.
So stop searching Google for the right answers to your questions. Stop relying on your partner, your parents, your manager, your God, or whoever the fuck else to give you the right answers.
Here’s a better plan: abandon all hope of doing the right thing all the time. Make your own best choices. Accept the consequences. Learn from what you chose. Believe in your own ability to choose.
Once you do, don’t expect life to be any easier, calmer or more straightforward. But do expect to feel much better about living it.