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154 Cut me some slack

Should we pass a law that requires everybody to be happy? Here are reasons that idea cannot work. Difference is part of happiness. Utopia by commandment is an oxymoron.

United goal

We study cause and effect, input and output. Reason helps us choose desirable results and plan the steps necessary to realize them. When we agree on methods, we might codify them so that we know what to expect of each other. Doing so serves to coordinate our efforts. However, it does not convert everybody to the same thinking. Those who feel left out do not see the prescribed codification as helpful.

First consider

Humans need give and take, accommodation of differences. Everybody is giving up some idiosyncratic preferences to be endurable to other people. However, society is out of balance when a small minority is giving up everything so that a different small minority suffers no discomfort at all-the opposite of "cutting others some slack."

If a friend at church says something hurtful to me, do I need to reform the whole church? If the government funds a project that does not measure up to my personal ethics, must I bring down the government? If a world perfectly fits all my expectations, might it be the wrong world for somebody else?

Then examine

With these questions in mind, let us examine our actions. Let us ask whether we are serving the whole or imposing ourselves upon it. Eliminating smallpox and hopefully river blindness serves the whole of humanity. On the other hand, forcefully eliminating alcoholic beverages has not proved to be a universal blessing.

Separation of church and state is a powerful illustration of allowing people to reinforce group behaviors (deepening beliefs) without imposing them universally on everyone (passing laws). Closer examination reveals that members of a church, while compatible, are not unanimous. Even in small families dedicated to united behavior, there are individual differences of beliefs and implementations.

When one church tries to direct all governments, and when one government tries to command all churches, give-and-take tolerance suffers and social tension increases. Instead of creating harmony, enforced utopian panaceas destroy the very structure they claim to establish.

Underlying principle

Society inescapably includes variation and variance. Uniformity forces the air out rather than renewing the body with fresh air. We do not define and codify our ideal society. Instead, through patient tolerance, we observe its emergence, insofar as any social order can become ideal. The key is coexistence [#91 other half] in a condition of nonuniformity.


I am not able to end religious and political dogmas. Goodness knows, I have an adequate supply of my own. What I require of myself is to respect yours. Doing so invites you to reciprocate. Fixed in this relationship, we are ready to synthesize: to take disparate pieces of thesis and antithesis and make of them a synthesis that is larger than the sum of the parts.

There is flexibility in the present when we practice give and take. We also need flexibility over time because all of us grow, mature, and change. Codifying my high school self would have barred becoming what I now am. How silly of me if I were to codify my new self as a mold for my future or a model for everyone else! We individually and collectively do not see perfectly where we are going, what we are becoming. We and our society need room to experiment and breathe.


This teaching can be applied with the simple questions, "Does my current idea impinge uncomfortably on anyone? Why?" Pain felt by anyone is a call to awareness when we contemplate making a law. The outlook is unfavorable if the cost in pain outweighs the benefit in social happiness. For example, allowing assisted suicide to alleviate unbearable present or future pain need not cause pain to survivors. Individuality can be respected without dishonoring those who choose differently-on either side of a question.

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