Everything is relative. It all depends on your perspective. We all have our point of view. We must respect others’ rights to believe whatever they wish. To each his own. Live and let live. Sound familiar? It’s not easy making judgments these days. The vast amount of information on the internet hasn’t made it any easier either. Just about any discussion, from global warming to religion, is fraught with relativistic arguments that lead nowhere except to certain paralysis.
Those who aren’t paralyzed, take a stand and stick to it with the fervor of a zealot, regardless of whether or not their beliefs and actions make any sense. Intellectual integrity is out the window, and people can rarely ever explain why they do what they do beyond superficial reasons. I remember sitting next to a lady at a dinner in a new Thai restaurant a few years ago. We were ordering, and I asked her if she wanted to share a shrimp dish. She said, “No, I don’t eat shrimp…I might be allergic”. I asked her when she had her first allergic reaction. She said, “Oh no, I’ve never had one; in fact, I’ve never eaten a shrimp. I don’t know if I’m allergic, but from what I’ve read I MIGHT be, so I avoid them”.
How then, does one make judgments about belief systems, business opportunities, politics, relationships, etc.? Can one “judge”? It doesn’t even seem politically correct these days to make judgments without being seen as judgmental.
Some years ago, I interviewed a dozen leading psychotherapists in Montreal, for a paper I was writing on the integration of cultural value systems in therapy. It’s a hugely important topic, as changing ethnographics place a strain on therapists to provide effective services to their clients. I asked the question: What are the boundaries [if any] to cultural accommodation that must be made in the context of therapy? For example, if a client’s culture endorses corporal punishment of wives and children, should this be challenged in therapy, or is it culturally insensitive and inappropriate to do so?
The best answer that I received, came from one psychoanalyst. Not only did it answer my immediate question, but it formed the basis for a broader way of assessing and judging many situations, including belief systems, political parties, business ventures, etc.
She said: “We must certainly accomodate culture, but we need not kow-tow to it. Ask yourself two questions: 1. Does this belief system allow people to freely explore their full potential and capabilities, or does it limit, constrain, or oppress them into pre-established patterns?, and 2. Does this belief system encourage people to openly and freely question and challenge it, without negative consequences?”.
It’s a great start.