I was talking with Katie earlier today about life, what we do, what we don’t do, and why we don’t do so much we could… It turns out that life is like an onion made up of three layers…
First of all, there’s the set of things we think are OK or good to do and which actually are. This includes a a bunch of obvious things like separating recyclables from non-recyclables and helping old ladies cross the street. Similarly, there is a large set of actions which are not OK, like armed robbery or lying on your CV. In all of these cases the answer is blindingly obvious, and there is no doubt in any reasonable person’s mind mind or inconsistency between their words and actions.
It turns out that there’s an even larger set of actions, probably larger than both of the above combined, and that’s the set of actions a person thinks aren’t OK, but which actually are. Some of these will be morally complex issues like economic conflict that betters your nation in a net-negative game or allowing psychologically effective marketing which manipulates consumers. Leaving aside these morally complex issues though, there is also a huge number of other day to day decisions which might seem moral and grey, but which actually aren’t. I’m talking about simple things: Is it OK to complain in a restaurant if they’ve overcooked your steak? Is it OK to tell a friend you think their outfit is terrible? That their girlfriend is terrible?
To me, the obvious answer to all of the questions I just suggested is “yes”. Tact and diplomacy are important, but the obvious answer is still yes. On the other hand, there are things which I’m not comfortable with, but which aren’t really in the orange circle, things like being the beggar on a street asking for change, or walking around San Francisco naked. I wouldn’t do it, but really… is it not OK?
Thinking about it more, it seems to me that actually it is OK, and just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean others can’t. More importantly, just because I wouldn’t do X now doesn’t mean I shouldn’t or couldn’t do it in the future… And that’s been a key insight for me today, a reminder to think more critically and carefully about the things I don’t think I should do. Because maybe I could, if I wanted to, and in so doing I would let my life grow to fill both of the green circles and not just the smaller inner one. I want a life as large and spacious as possible, so this onion and what I think it means is very encouraging.
[for the record, I don’t want to walk naked around San Francisco, even thought it’s probably OK for other people to]