Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Forgive and forget, forgotten

"If you shoot my dog, imma kill your cat." - Jay Z

Joe Ward writes about how other people have stuff going on in their lives too, so we should forgive them for their annoying transgressions. Forgive and forget, right?

I've talked before about how bad our first impressions are, and suggested that we attempt to get past them as soon as possible. I think about this all the time. But does it "accomplish" anything, and actually change our behavior?

Eric Schwitzgebel has an awesome blog where he talks about this exact problem, based on the experimental result that ethics professors don't act any more ethically than anybody else. If people that think about ethics all the time don't act any better, how can the poor ethical layman like myself hope to do any better?

I don't know if I can, but I'm sure that it's worth my best shot. Like Marcus Aurelius says in his Meditations,

"Either the world is a mere hotch-potch of random cohesions and dispersions, or else it is a unity of order and providence. If it is the former, why wish to survive in such a purposeless or chaotic confusion; why care about anything, save the manner of ultimate return to dust; why trouble my head at all, since, do what I will, dispersion will overtake me sooner or later? But if the contrary be true, then I do reverence, I stand firmly, and I put my trust in the directing power."

Priests and shamans alike can quibble over the nature of that power, but the desire to do stand firm is practically universal. We can tell ourselves to forgive and forget all day, but in the throes of the moment can we stop our sympathetic nervous system from triggering upon perceiving a threat? Will our blood pressure not rise? I doubt it.

Being human means getting annoyed when you call fives and somebody takes your seat anyways. But maybe being human can also mean forgiving that person after reflection, a month later, on your blog. I don't know. I'll probably never know for sure.