Finding Balance Through Context and Perspective

Nearly two years ago, I posted about how the current political polarized environment seemed to derive from the comfort many feel from a sense of absolutism, where a set framework of rules and beliefs gives a solid sense of direction, and how these absolute frameworks actually tend to upset the delicate balance of nature and society. I commented on how these expressions of absolutism failed to understand the balance by not seeing the context within the interactions of others or exploring the range of perspective in which one was creating the absolute framework. However, I do realize that understanding context and perspective is not a simple concept, especially when regarding each of our positions within this universe, knowing full context and total perspective is an absolute impossibility. Yet, the better one can understand the basic sense of how context and perception plays in understanding nature and social interaction, then accepting the variations of life in finding balance might come easier.

Context is a very important part of our ability to judge the actions of others around us, the conditions that many of us face on a daily basis, and the quality of our own actions within nature and society. Regardless of how selfishly or selflessly our own personal views characterizes right and wrong, worthiness, or responsibility, judgement is the way we relate our views to the actions surrounding us. However, our ability to judge any incident or decision is dependent upon the amount of information we can see about the factors surrounding the incident or judgement, including the aspects of intent and consequences. The better we are at seeing more of these factors of context surrounding an incident, the better we can become at judging the actions and consequences of the incident. For instance, imagine a person walking down a sidewalk along a busy street, when suddenly another person comes out of nowhere and tackles the first person onto the concrete, causing bruising and a couple broken bones. Just based on this information, one may judge the second person as being guilty of a vicious assault, perhaps even demonstrating a power-hungry sense of bullying. However, if mere seconds later, an out-of-control speeding vehicle suddenly jumps the curb and crashes into a wall at a point where the first person would have been if this person had not been pushed out of the way by the second person, then judgement of the second person’s actions may be seen as a selfless attempt of protection from danger and the injuries the first person incurred may be considered more acceptable to the real possibility of death if the first person had not been shoved out of the way of the wayward vehicle. Unfortunately, for many events, these factors of context tend to be much more complex and trying to understand actions or events often require sorting out opposing contextual factors, as well as trying to uncover the more hidden factors of intent. Yet, so much context is lost when we try to reduce our judgement down to a simple right or wrong single sentence meme.

Understanding the context of the information around us depends totally on the information we receive from our senses, our ability to integrate information over a period of time, and our acceptance in the reliability of this collected information, which forms our perspective of the universe around us. The evolution of humanity led us to develop a way to exchange parts of the information each of us gathers amongst other individuals through a common spoken language, then we developed a way to spread this information to a broader society of humanity through the organized symbols of a common written language. This sharing of information broadened our perspective and understanding to eventually create through scientific technology a way to share and gather information over distances beyond our immediate sensual views. However, no matter how much language and technology expands each one of our perspectives within our life and the universe, we are all limited in the amount and breadth of information each of us can gather and maintain in our memories in order to fully see the world and universe we are in and to accurately judge absolutely what our next actions should be within this world. Therefore, we base our decisions of future actions based on a core of information we feel we understand and use faith to fill in the blanks. However, due to variations in how information comes to us, we are often confronted with contradictions in what is happening around us. In some circumstances, these contradictions are caused by inaccurate or false information presented to us, from something as simple as a mirage or a damaged sense to something more complicated like incorrect or false information shared to us by others. How should we handle these flaws in our own perspective? For some, it becomes better to firmly accept one clear framework of information and begin to reject or judge negatively any information that begins to go against this framework. This may provide clarity or comfort, but very often this will begin to clash with other absolutely created frameworks. What I have realized within my own perspective is that there is no one perfect framework of perspective. To handle the flow of contradictory information, I need to constantly compare new information with old information and see where information seems contradictory. Sometimes, I notice that a changing environment only created the sense of contradiction when there really was no conflict in information. Many times, the comparison and balancing of information helps me to determine which information is illusionary or incorrect. However, oftentimes, I can only be open to gathering information, constantly compare and contrast what is provided to me, then use a little faith to fill in the gaps and move forward. My perspective is only one of an infinite number of perspectives in this universe, and seeking a balance among what I see, hear, read, and comprehend is the closest to being a calming part of this universe.

Absolutism: The Loss of Balance

The political polarization that has arisen in America and around the world seems to run counter to the evolution of human society toward democratic ideals of equality, basic independent rights, and a broader global management of nature and life on earth; however, it seems to me that the technological advances of mass social communication has only revealed a base natural characteristic into which most individuals fall back to find comfort and power in an uncertain world – absolutism. In essence, in order to find order in one’s life, one seeks to find a framework of absolutes to live by, bonds with others who agree with this set of absolutes, and quickly dismisses and rejects those who refuse to fit within this strict set of rules and beliefs. The uncertainty of decision-making is resolved by the internal acceptance that, in all circumstances, there is only one absolute right way with all else being the absolute wrong way. This determination can be conceived through religious doctrine or social theory, but one’s acceptance of an absolute interpretation relieves one of the guilt and angst of making a wrong decision, laying the blame for an unacceptable result on the actions of others who follow a different interpretation. However, this sense of absolutism can only undercut the delicate balance within the context of life itself.

Many of Aesop’s fables have simple morals that have guided me in life and influenced society through the centuries. However, I remember reading one fable that did not truly fit the concept of the moral presented and caused me to reflect on the flaw behind the absolute in the moral. I have seen a couple of ways the story is told, but one simple version is a king providing comfort to a traveler on a cold night. Basically, the tale has the traveler blowing on his hands and, upon questioning, states he is warming them up from the cold. The traveler is then provided with a bowl of stew, fresh from the fire, and he begins to blow on it. When questioned, he states that he is cooling the hot stew so he can eat it. At this point, the traveler is sent back out into the cold with a statement from the king that “no man could be trusted who blows both hot and cold.” The moral on its own is a caution against trusting or dealing with hypocritical individuals, yet the traveler was not a source of hypocrisy. His life and the lives of all creatures depends upon a range of temperature far from the extremes of absolute zero and the solar furnace. When a person blows out of his mouth, the air that comes out is in this normal balanced range, which means that it can transfer warmth to items that are colder, like skin subjected to a freezing night, as well as absorb energy from hotter items, like a bowl of stew fresh from a fire. In essence, the traveler was balancing the levels of hot and cold around him. However, the traveler was accused of expounding both extremes, because the king could only see life in the absolutes of hot and cold. Aesop had fallen under the trap of absolutism.

As I see it, this has become the course of political and moral discussion in today’s broadcast and social media. Although I do see true incidents of hypocritical actions at times, often I witness the accusation of sin, incompetence, or hypocrisy directed toward others because it is outside the accuser’s absolute narrow set of ethics. An individual who attempts to resolve an issue by finding common ground between two sides or seeking a suitable balance of needs is accused by absolutists of “trying to have it both ways,” as well as “totally violating a sacred rule or law.” Any view, balanced or otherwise, that exists outside an absolutist’s view is labeled extremist, and any action, that goes against the absolutist’s narrow laws, regardless of context or intent, is grouped and branded under the same accusation of failure or sin. In other words, it is easy for an absolutist to compare “apples and oranges,” because it is all just “bad fruit.” By following and judging others from an absolutist set of ethics, an individual is able to avoid having to analyze the actual context under which actions and events occur, which is probably why so many seek to accept a straight set of rules.

The truth is, to accurately and constantly analyze and fully understand the evolution of context in trying to make the right decision requires the omniscience of God, yet we are constantly strapped by the limitations postulated in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which forces us to make some decisions on faith, setting some of these decisions on a course to failure. However, I feel that if we do not try to hide behind a blind set of absolutism when events do not follow as we have planned, but rather use a broader set of principles to guide us while continuing to monitor the changing context of events around us, we can find a better balance in successfully connecting with a broader range of humanity and making more successful decisions. Yet, I am sure that there will be many who will claim that I am only “trying to have it both ways,” that my thought and actions are “violating their rights and freedom to bring the truth to others,” or that I will “suffer in hell for turning my back on God’s word.”

Health Insurance and Religious Freedom

A few days ago, I came across an article in the paper about the suit challenging the new healthcare law’s dictate that corporate health insurance benefits for employees must include coverage for standard contraceptives, including the “morning after” pill, was heading to the Supreme Court. The suit claims that this part of the law would constitutionally violate some company owners’ religious freedoms, since it would force them to support a practice that is against their tightly held religious beliefs. According to the article, the debate turns on whether a company can be considered “a person” that has religious beliefs protected under the First Amendment. However, I see this argument as being spurious because it does not matter whether one is making this case for a company, a person or even a religious organization. After all, how can any entity claim a First Amendment right to freedom of religion as a defense to deny that same right to another citizen?

In essence, all jobs are basically inherent contracts between parties requiring services and parties providing the services needed, whether the relationship is between an individual and an independent contractor or between an employer and employee. For services rendered, compensation is provided, and the payer has no further ownership or control over the funds provided, and therefore, no control over what the payee does with those funds going forth. For example, a vegan company owner cannot force his employees to use their salaries to purchase only vegetable dishes for their families.

Employee benefits are just as much a form of compensation as salary for an employee’s service. Considering that no individual or party can control or impose any sort of restriction upon how an individual uses that compensation within the freedoms guaranteed to that individual by the Constitution, it is up to the employee to decide how to use a health insurance benefit within his or her own religious beliefs. If an owner of a company is a Jehovah’s Witness, should he be able to restrict his employee’s health plan benefit so that it does not allow any form of emergency blood transfusion? I think not. A health insurance plan should cover most legally acceptable forms of medical services that an individual may find acceptable to his or her own religious beliefs, which is why the new healthcare law included contraceptive services. A business owner, like any other individual, has a right to preach his or her religious and moral beliefs to his or her employees, but the employees’ rights to their individual beliefs and morals must be respected and accepted in return. That is the price for living in a non-theocratic democracy.