A Lady and A Dress
When we are law-abiding citizens, and live a law-abiding life, we do not fear that law enforcement agents will knock the doors of our houses to arrest us. When we follow the etiquette and the societal custom, we do not worry that our relatives and friends will criticize or laugh at us.
So, by conforming to the law and the etiquette, we are able to reach a certain degree of tranquility, which is the most fundamental element of happiness. If our minds are not tranquil, we cannot possibly be happy.
Most of us are not law legislators, who are in the position to create or revise laws. Neither are most of us celebrities, who sometimes can dictate the etiquette trend. A notable example was King George II, who was so touched, when listening to G. F. Handel’s Messiah, that he rose to his feet. Today, when The Messiah is played, the audience is supposed to follow this etiquette.
So, even when we do not really like certain laws or etiquettes, we have no choice but trying to obey them. They will not change to fit our behaviors, but we have to change our behaviors to fit them.
In addition, if we violate laws and ignore etiquettes, we are unable to brush away the consequences casually. If I embezzle $1 million from my company, the law will surely haunt me until I am justly punished. If I remain seated in a Handel’s Messiah concert, and if my neighbor sees that, he surely will tell his wife about it upon his returning home.
Our conscience is entirely different from laws and etiquettes. Fortunately, (or unfortunately), it lies within our mind. We are our own lawmakers and we are the “celebrities”. We can create and revise our conscience into whatever we want it to be.
Furthermore, we also can casually brush the incidents away when our behaviors do not conform to our conscience. When our minds are ticking with several thoughts flashing by in a few seconds, who knows, and who cares, except ourselves?
The two techniques that are most commonly employed when our behaviors are inconsistent with our conscience are (1) to justify our actions, and (2) to brush the incidents away.
In fact, as we climb up higher and higher in our social status, we become increasingly law-abiding, and etiquette-following, because our stake is too high to risk it. Consider an American senator and a Tahitian farmer. The chances are that, between the two, the senator has learned more laws and etiquettes than the farmer.
How about their conscience levels? Do you think that the senator may be more conscientious than the farmer is? When the battery of a helpless driver’s car is dead in the parking lot, and when the senator’s BMW and the farmer’s truck are passing by, who is more likely to stop and help the driver to jump the dead battery?
My conjecture is that education and the social status do not correlate with one’s conscience level. Actually, the stark truth is that, as we have become more educated, we have learned more and better skills to justify our actions.
When I was a meat eater, and was challenged by vegetarians, I would profusely justify my actions by asserting (1) lions eat lambs, too, and (2) cabbages can pain, too.
In comparisons, some meat eaters, when encountering the topic of vegetarian diet, will simply smile, shrug their shoulders, and say, “Yes, eating vegetables is good. By the way, your kitchen looks very nice. I like your cabinet and the wallpapers...”.
In general, to attempt to justify our own actions is morally more advanced than to brush the issue away. Justifiers open their minds, and are at least thinking. So there is a ray of hope. Brushers close their minds, and refuse to think or communicate. It is a hopeless case.
The policy of closing the door is rarely a good one. It leads to ignorance, arrogance, and stagnation. The other day, a couple of my friends, who are also a couple, and I took a stroll in the neighborhood of their house. They complained about having mosquitoes in the summer in that area. Three of us first wondered why. But when we passed by a pond filled with filthy stagnant water, we knew the answer immediately.
Even so, justifying is still not the proper way of dealing with the problem when conscience and actions differ.
However, I continued to justify my actions. And all the time my conscience also continued to gnaw my heart. The slaughtered cows, pigs, and chickens must go through excruciating pain when they are slaughtered. Regardless how hard I justify, this fact remain unchanged. On the other hand, the meat is just too tasty for me. I was unable to give up.
During the period of justification, my actions and my conscience did not conform to each other. Guilt resided in my heart.
In other words, “Causing other beings excruciating pain is wrong” is like a dress. “Being unable to give up the tasty meat” is like a plump lady. For her to fit into that dress so that she looks pretty and the dress is utilized, something must be done. Either she has to reduce her weight, or the dress must be tailored to fit her size.
Brushing the issue away is like folding up the dress, and storing it in the dresser drawer. Justifying the issue is like putting the dress, as is, onto her plump body. The dress may burst and tear, or she may be uncomfortably restrained by the clothes. Both are not the proper ways of dealing the problem.
Finally, I opted reducing her weight – sacrificing the tasty meat. And tranquility was attained.
Had I been able to successfully find convincing reasons why slaughtering other beings was acceptable, tranquility would have been attained in my heart, too. But (1) lions eat lambs, too, and (2) cabbages can pain, too, are not sufficiently convincing reasons. They do not change the fact that other beings must pain when being slaughtered.