Basic Goodwill as a Moral Gift

THE CAPACITY FOR GOODWILL is one of the defining features of being a morally decent human being. And no human is ever entirely beyond the need for goodwill. And it is simple and ever so poignant truth that goodwill can take quite simple forms. For instance, suppose that person Alpha is walking behind person Beta and sees that a pen has just fallen out of Beta’s pocket. Well, person Alpha performs an act of basic goodwill by picking up the pen and informing Beta of what had just happened. That simple act of goodwill probably takes no more than 60 seconds. Yet, the gesture means so much.

That is what I find so fascinating about basic acts of goodwill. They often require very little effort. Yet, such acts can mean so very much to the person for whom the act of goodwill was performed. Indeed, if my own experience is any indication, then performing a basic of goodwill is so very affirming to the person who so behaves. Indeed, it can be rightly said that such behavior indicates a very good thing about a person’s character. This is especially so if an individual lives in a morally stable and morally decent society. For in such a society, a person rarely—if ever—has to worry about staying alive. That can be taken as a given. Likewise, a person rarely has to worry about protecting the life of a family member.

But countless are the opportunities for basic goodwill. Indeed, there is no reason whatsoever to supposed that there will such a degree of advancement in this or that society that basic goodwill will be entirely irrelevant to society.

Interestingly, there is a profound respect in which the very foundation of basic goodwill is marvelous parental upbringing. For marvelous parental upbringing is not just about parents doing their job in raising their children. Rather, it is about parents tremendously appreciating and taking delight in the developmental progress of their children. I shall take to my grave the delight that my parents displayed when I wrote my first word and when I did my first case of simple arithmetic and the first instance of my tying my shoes. And so on. Their marvelous perceptivity of my progress was the key to my being perceptive with regard to the behavior of those around me. Likewise, the very fact that their simple gestures of goodwill towards me routinely meant so very much to me made it unequivocally clear to me that it is possible to make a positive difference in small ways.

I have never saved a life. Thus far, no such opportunity has ever presented itself. But I have had a wealth of experience in terms of witnessing the quite positive difference that simple acts of genuine goodwill can make. Moreover, I have numerous opportunities to engage in simple acts of goodwill; and routinely I have taken tremendous delight in so behaving. Indeed, it has turned out time and time again that such behavior has been a wonderful source of moral inspiration. Thus, basic goodwill on my part has been proven to be a moral gift one kind to the recipient and the gift of a moral mirror to me.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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The Amazing Parental Love Story of Christian Buchanan

Christian Buchanan 2ndThe story of Christian Buchanan should more than suffice to remove any doubts that a person might have with regard to the extraordinary majesty and power of parental love.  Quite simply, parental love gives a child a most profound sense of worth, where having a sense of worth is not in any way to be confused with being arrogant.  Indeed, it is quite possible to be ever so arrogant and yet be utterly lacking in a sense of worth.  By contrast, a genuinely modest individual can be an ever so bright shining star in terms of the moral majesty of having a sense of worth.

As the image above to the left makes clear, he came into this world lacking some major facial features.  Even though he was lacking in significant facial features, he was just fine in terms of both his psychological formation and his intellectual abilities.  As with any newborn, the one thing that Christian unequivocally needed and ever so majestically received is parental love.  And the pictures make it so wonderfully clear that notwithstanding the deformities, Christian was growing up as a very, very happy child.  That truth so profoundly speaks to the tremendous power of parental love.

The very significance of parental love is that such brings its about that the child so loved values herself or himself.  It is fascinating, when one thinks about it, that in order for a newborn child to value herself or himself starting at birth all that the child needs is genuine parental love.  What is truly phenomenal here is that a child will naturally come to value herself or himself simply as a result of being the beneficiary of marvelous parental love.  Parental love is the necessary fuel that is ever so efficacious in starting the psychological engine of a child valuing herself or himself.  In the all the years that I have thought about parental love, I have never thought about in the way expressed in the preceding sentence.  But upon reflection it is unequivocally clear that the point made is absolutely right.  There is no substitute for parental love.  None whatsoever.Christian Buchanan 3rd  The image of Christian at the piano is such a marvelous affirmation of that truth

A most significant point here is that it does not matter at all whether the sustained parental love comes from a biological parent or not.  So from an evolutionary perspective, there is a very straightforward sense in which evolution allowed for the possibility that a newborn may receive extraordinary affirmation from an adult who is not the biological parent of that newborn.  And guess what?  All that truly matters is that the newborn receives such sustained and majestic affirmation.  In teaching, I bear witness to the point just made; for I have taught truly marvelous students of one ethnicity who were adopted by adults of a visibly different ethnicity.  Just so, it was manifestly clear that the students were marvelously loved by the parents who adopted them.

Although the individuals providing majestic parental affirmation to a child need not be the child’s biological parents: a most profound, sublime truth, and indisputable truth is that there is nothing on the face of this earth that can take the place of the majestic parental affirmation that flows from parental love.  From an evolutionary perspective, it is absolutely fascinating that all a newborn needs is systematic and sustained affirmation while growing up.  The newborn does not—I repeat: does not—need for the affirmation to come from her or his biological parents.

The Christian Buchanan story is so very inspiring precisely because it is a truly marvelous real-life illustration of the reality that a child’s defective physical features are in no way a barrier to the majestic affirming power of parental love.  From an evolutionary perspective, it is truly phenomenal that human beings are so configured biologically that parental love, as it should, be ever so mightily and majestically transcends a child’s physical features.

On the one hand, if the very idea of evolution is survival, then the fact about evolutionary theory articulated two paragraphs ago regarding the significance newborn human beings receiving deep and sustained affirmation from an adult (typically but necessarily the biological parents) speaks to just how majestic evolution can be in terms of the way in which a species is biologically configured.  On the other hand, I must confess that the extraordinary importance of parental love in a child’s life inclines me to wonder whether there is indeed a higher power.  For we do not find anything even remotely parallel among any other species on the face of the earth.  Although biologically, the fact of the matter is that apes (chimpanzees, monkeys) are the closest to human beings, the reality is that there is absolutely no denying the truth that there is a vast and morally significant difference between apes and human beings.  In a most majestic manner, Christian Buchanan is a truly sublime and morally phenomenal reminder of the truth that there is a quite substantial moral difference between human beings and apes; and that truth holds all the more so regarding the moral difference between human beings and all other creatures on the face of the earth. The majesty of parental love among human beings simply has no equal or parallel among non-human creatures.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Proper Moral Sensibilities Are a Marvelous Moral Gift

One of the defining features of moral sensibilities is the wherewithal to correctly grasp the motives with which a person behaves, given adequate exposure to the person’s behavior.  Of course, in view of the fact that human beings are rather complex creatures, it is not possible to always be correct in grasping the motives with which a person behaves.  Even a most talented and perceptive individual can be mistaken upon occasion.  Just so, when a person’s moral sensibilities are tremendously well developed, the indisputable truth is that it will be rare that the individual is mistaken in her or his assessment of another’s display of moral sensibilities.

A rather interesting question that presents itself is the following: Can it be for rational for a person to not want to have tremendous moral sensibilities?  After all, so the argument might go, there is the saying that “Ignorance is bliss”.  Clearly, ignorance is bliss when in point of fact not much turns on knowing some fact or the other.  However, in the matter of living a morally decent life, it never the case that ignorance is bliss.  Or so it is if living is understood to mean being the author of one’s very own life—as opposed to merely following orders

Of course, there are lots and lots of things about which a person does not at all need to be well-informed.  But it is also the case that these things most certainly do not play a central role in the person having the moral and psychological wherewithal to lead a meaningful life.  For example, the typical frequent-flyer is not tremendously informed about how an airplane operates.  However, there is simply no need for the typical frequent flyer to be so informed.  To put the point another way: No reasonable person could possible think knowing how operate an airplane is absolutely crucial to being able to lead a meaningful life.

With regard to the significance of having tremendous moral sensibilities, the unexpurgated truth of the matter is that such moral sensibilities play an absolutely decisive role in grasping the motivations of both the behavior and remarks of an individual.  To state the obvious: A faux pas is something that people sometimes make no matter how careful they are.  Hence, there is all the difference in the world between (i) a faux pas and (2) utterly venomous behavior or, in any case, unquestionably inappropriate behavior.  And if an individual has tremendous moral sensibilities, it will turn out that in most cases the individual can readily grasp whether a person has committed a simple faux pas or whether the person has been irresponsible to a quite significant degree.

To offer a quite interesting parallel: Having the proper moral sensibilities is rather like being fluent in a language.  In so very many cases, a fluent speaker of language can see where a speaker is going before the speaker actually gets there.

Being a truly decent person morally is tantamount to being fluent with respect to what moral sensibilities are appropriate given the circumstances that bear upon a person’s life.  Not surprisingly, this entails determining with great accuracy what counts as morally appropriate sentiments given the circumstances.

Here is an example involving, say, Leslie and Jesse, who are complete strangers to one another.  Suppose that Leslie slips on a piece of ice and while falling Leslie grabs the coat of Jesse who was just beginning to pass Leslie.  As a result of grabbing Jesse’s coat, Leslie does considerable damage to the coat but no harm at all to Jesse.

Needless to say, there is a very straightforward respect in which Jesse should not be angry with Leslie.  For it is not as if Leslie has been utterly careless while walking.  Nor is it the case that Leslie had as her intention to cause substantial damage to Leslie’s coat.  Although Leslie was the key player in damaging Jesse’s coat, it is simply not the case that Leslie was careless.  And it is certainly not the case that the damaging of Jesse’s coat was intentional.  And if Jesse is a morally decent and thoughtful person, then both of the points just made are unequivocally clear to him.  Accordingly, Jesse should not in any way be angry at Leslie.  For in terms of the formal characterization moral behavior, there is simply no respect in which Leslie’s aim was to harm Jesse or to do damage either to Jesse or to any of the pricy clothing that he was wearing.  And if Jesse is a morally decent individual, then Jesse will fully grasp that truth and act accordingly.

A final point: Part of what is involved in being a morally decent person is being quite masterful at correctly assessing what has transpired before one’s very eyes, which on countless many occasions involves an assessment of the motivations of the behavior of the person in question.  Without a doubt, there certainly can be occasions when, notwithstanding our attentiveness, we are lacking in clarity regarding the motivations with which a person has behaved.  But such cases should be the exception rather than the rule.

Being a morally person decent does not—I repeat: does not—entail that being of help to others should be the primary concern in life.  But it does entail not letting self-interest be an excuse for failing to see that with a minimum of effort one could be of assistance to someone who has suddenly found herself or himself to be in need owing to no fault at all that she or he made.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Do Black Lives Matter to Blacks?

Imagine that black lives matter to blacks as much as blacks insist that black lives should matter to whites.  If blacks had that kind of marvelous regard for one another, all the world would have an extremely different and tremendously positive view of black Americans.  For one thing, the amount of crime in black neighborhoods would be significantly lower than it is nowadays.  My simplistic view is the following: For any ethnic group Alpha, how the members of ethnic group Alpha treat one another will bear mightily upon how individuals who are not a member of group Alpha will treat Alpha folks.

For the record, I should point out that in terms of raw numbers more people are killed by whites than by blacks.  That should not surprise anyone, since there are far more whites in the United States than there are blacks.  But the numerical difference to which I have just drawn attention is compatible with the reality that the percentage of blacks who harm blacks is higher than the percentage of whites who harm whites.

If there are only 2,000 people who are part of group Alpha whereas there are 20,000 people who are part of group Beta, it can be true that the Beta group actually kills more Beta individuals than the Alpha group kills Alpha individuals.  Just so, the percentage of the Alpha killings can be higher than the percentage Beta individuals.  Notice that whereas 10% of 20o0 equals 200, it turns out that that a mere 5% of 20,000 equals 1,000.  So a smaller group can kill a significantly higher percentage of its members than a larger group kills of its members, even though in terms of raw numbers, the smaller group actually kills fewer individuals.

So although it can be correct to think that in terms actual numbers more whites are killing whites than blacks are killing blacks, that truth is compatible with the reality that the percentage of blacks killing blacks is substantially higher than percentage of whites killing whites.  And there is the rub.  Given all the talk that goes on among blacks regarding the importance and significance of blacks identifying with one another, the reality is that the level of black-on-black crime makes it unequivocally clear that blacks are far less respectful of one another than the slogan “Black lives matter” would seem to warrant.

If the above line of reasoning is correct, then the issue of blacks tremendously commanding the respect of non-blacks becomes extremely difficult.  And let me add here that there a fundamental difference between (a) treating a person justly and (b) a person commanding one’s respect.  There is a straightforward sense in which a person should be treated justly no matter what she or he does.  But it is formally and conceptually impossible to command the respect of others no matter what one does.  So it is regardless what a person’s ethnic configuration might be.  And blacks will never be the exception to that reality.

Of course, I fully agree that it is hardly the case that issue of racism with regard to blacks has entirely disappeared.  Just so, there has been such significant progress in that regard that there is an ever so profound respect in which blacks can exhibit excellences of thought and character, as well as behavior of significant moral responsibility, that mightily commands the respect of others.  If blacks were as committed to exhibiting such excellences as they are to protesting a wrong that is committed against a black, the unmitigated truth is that blacks would ever so majestically command the respect of individuals across all other ethnic groups.

My most poignant example is that just about all of the Mom & Pop stores in the black neighborhood in Syracuse are owned by Arabs‑‑‑often Arabs who do not have a full command of English.  The question that I have asked myself over and over and over again is “Why is that blacks do not own the majority of Mom & Pop stores in their very own neighborhood?”  That would be an extremely positive factor with respect to blacks commanding the respect of non-blacks.  And the proof of this comes from what is perhaps an unexpected direction, namely Chinese Restaurants.

We have all been to a Chinese Restaurant where the owners barely speak English.  Just so, they own the restaurant.  And guess what?  Our prevailing attitude with regard to Asians is that they are very hard working people who have found a rather excellent way of being successful.  Whatever else is true nowadays, racism cannot be deemed the explanation for why blacks have not done something analogous.  For instance, suppose that 2 or 3 blacks opened a soul food restaurant in the Syracuse University area.  I am pretty confident that the owners would have lots of student customers of various ethnic backgrounds buying a fried chicken and mashed potatoes dish with sweet potato pie for dessert.  And that would be a wonderful way of underwriting the idea that black lives matter precisely because it would be a marvelous way of blacks gracefully commanding the respect of non-blacks.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Technology and Friendship

It is obvious that technology has mightily facilitated communication between people.  Owing to the marvelous technological developments that have taken place, we are doing what was all but inconceivable a mere 25 years ago in terms of communicating with folks.  But are friendships better today than friendships were 25 years ago?  In the opposite direction, it is far from obvious that an affirmative answer is ever so appropriate to the question just asked.

As Aristotle understood companion friendship, individuals who are companion friends spend a tremendous amount of time together; and it is precisely because they spend a tremendous amount of time together that the companion friends come to have a tremendous sense of each other’s character.  Aristotle correctly grasped that no story can take the place of friends actually witnessing one another’s behavior.  For Aristotle, this meant that companion friends spend a lot of time in one another’s company.  Alas, the telephone has made it possible for there to be tremendous communication between individuals even though they are not in one another’s physical presence, where the communication includes not just the words that each person utters to the other but also the tonality and hesitations and the quality of an utterance.  For instance, an utterance can come across as extremely sincere or something that a person was very reluctant to say or as an instance of tremendous joy.  And so on.  This is especially so with companion friends talking to one another, since there is a tremendous bond between them.

Now, as we all know, texting is one of the great technological advancements.  There can no doubt about it: Texting is a quite wonderful way for two individuals to communicate with one another without either individual disturbing anyone around her or him.  Without a doubt, the benefits of texting are enormous.  But there is a non-trivial downside to texting, namely that in effect sincerity or the lack thereof is absolutely inconsequential.  Leslie can send a text to Mary in which she claims that she [Leslie] had a wonderful time at Mary’s party; and that claim is surrounded by a dozen simile-faces.  Yet, Leslie is simply lying; for she thought that the party at Mary’s house was horrible.  Now, to be sure, it is perfectly possible for a person to get away with such a lie while having a face-to-face conversation with an individual.  But there can be no if, ands, and buts about the matter: It is much, much easier to get away with a lie via texting than it is via a face-to-face conversation with the person.  For a face-to-face conversation with a person requires the right body language and tonality of voice, whereas texting does not require any of that.

So, an indisputable truth is that technology mightily facilitates a measure of dishonesty that would have been all but impossible a mere 25 years ago.  Consequently, there is a quite poignant respect in which technology is undermining the existence of companion friendship.

The concluding point of the preceding paragraph can be put another way, namely as follows: Notwithstanding the extraordinary amount of communication via texting that takes place nowadays, there is not a shred of evidence that warrants the conclusion that, thanks to technology, friendships have come to be so very much richer than they used to be.  For all the texting between individuals that takes place nowadays, there is not a scintilla of evidence that warrants the view that nowadays friendships are so very much richer than they were in the past.

Friendship is routinely one of the topics I take up in my course Ethics and Contemporary Issues.  Alas, it is simply not the case that I am hearing richer and deeper and more insightful views about friendship than I heard 20-years ago.  Nor am I hearing a sublime appreciation of the ideal of friendship that mightily exceeds the rich friendships that folks had in the past.  Put another way: Notwithstanding the far greater amount of communication that takes place between individuals these days, there is little, if any reason, to believe that companion friendships nowadays have a depth and richness to them that they lacked in the past.

Indeed, my biggest worry is that owing to the tremendous amount of communication between individuals that is taking place by way of some form of technology rather than face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice telephone) communication, there may be far more self-deception with regard to whether a person has a rich friendship with an individual than was the case in the past.  I fully grasp the point of adding a smiley face to a text-message.  I have certainly done that myself.  But no image of a smiley face can come even close to having the majesty and affirmation of a genuine smile from another.  Hence, there can be no greater sign that humanity is in for a horrific decline than that the smiley face on devices has more leverage than the wonderful smile that flows from the interaction that is so mightily and rightfully occasioned by a person’s majestic and ever so genuine goodwill.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Rape and False Accusations of Rape

Rape is surely one of the most horrific of wrongs that an individual can suffer.  And one of the most striking differences between the present and yesteryear is that in the past false accusations of rape were essentially non-existent.  The very idea of making a false accusation of rape in order to get back at an individual simply did not occur to people.  Or if the idea did occur to this or that individual, so behaving was deemed to be absolutely inappropriate.

But times have changed quite a bit.  Nowadays, we are hearing way too often of a charge of rape that in point of fact is false.  Even more painfully, it is happening often enough that males who are falsely accused of having raped a woman are so utterly devastated by the false accusation that they turn around and commit suicide.  Jesse Cheshire is one such student.  I hold that in no respect should properly helping one group of people constitute a justification or an excuse for wronging another group of people.  In respect at all.

I can fully understand that a woman may not like the sex that she agreed to have with a male or that she is much bothered by the fact that she was so inebriated that she went against her very own moral principles or against her personal preferences in agreeing to have sex with some male.  That is, I can completely grasp a sense of regret that a person—female or male—might have over having had sex with someone.  But a false accusation of rape is entirely beyond my comprehension.  A false accusation stands as one of the most horrific forms of evil that exists in society nowadays.

I take it as obvious that the false accusation of rape is owing to the reality that, for some reason or the other, the woman regrets having had sex with the male in question.  I can easily make sense of such regret even by a male.  Alas, the false accusation part amounts to none other than a form of psychic absolution—a way of defusing any plausibility of blame on the part of the woman.  Why the female can even talk to others about what happened and yet entirely block any assessment that she was not handling herself in the morally right way.

And the very eager concern on the part of institutions of higher learning to make it manifestly clear that they take women seriously has been a very significant factor in women being able to get away with a false rape charge.  For giving weight to the male’s claim is readily seen as being akin to the sexism of yesteryear which privileged males over females.  And it is an indisputable truth that nowadays institutions of higher learning are absolutely determined not to be seen as embracing nowadays the attitudes of yesteryear that prevailed with respect to women.

Ain’t nothing wrong with that.  But as I said at the outset: In no respect should properly helping one group of people constitute either a justification or an excuse to wrong another group of people.  The sexism of the past is no more an excuse to wrong innocent men nowadays than is the racism of yesteryear against blacks an excuse to wrong innocent whites nowadays.

Encouraging and underwriting genuine respect across gender differences, ethnic differences, differences in sexual orientation, and so on, is one of the greatest contributions that institutions of higher learning can make to society whilst instilling tremendous knowledge and insight among students.  Alas, turning a blind eye to false accusations of rape is none other than a truly despicable form of evil which, in the long run, will surely do far more harm than good.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Elie Wiesel (1928-2016): A Tremendous Gift to Humanity

Elie WieselElie Wiesel was a moral and intellectual giant.  He was a moral giant who was an ever so modest and thoughtful individual. I had the honour of meeting him with him on three occasions.  Indeed, I have had the pleasure of dining with him on one occasion.  Quite simply, being in the presence Elie Wiesel stands as one of the most marvelous moments of my life—a moral gift for which I shall always be grateful and that I shall treasure all the days of my life.

Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, his self-presentation was ever so admirable.  Indeed, I do not think that I have ever met a more humble person than Elie Wiesel.

He was a person of absolutely extraordinary moral character and depth of insight.  And even though he was a Holocaust survivor, it is manifestly clear that he never allowed the evil of the Holocaust to render him a bitter person.  On the other hand, his work on the evil of the Holocaust is absolutely extraordinary.  His books Night and The Trial of God have played a most significant role in my life.  Indeed, the reading of Night made it manifestly clear to me that I needed to go to Poland so that I could view Auschwitz with my very own eyes.  And The Trial of God has played a major role in how I now understand forgiveness.

I have taught Night in the course American Slavery and the Holocaust (listed in temporal order) which I every three years.  And all that I can say is that in each case the reading of Night was rather like reading it again for the first time in terms of both the insight that I gained and the inspiration that his work inspired.

Elie Wiesel has been a tremendous fountain of inspiration in my life.  I shall always be grateful that our paths crossed.  With truly extraordinary majesty, he commanded my respect.  And his goodwill towards me stands as one of the most magnificent moral and social gifts of my very life.  Without a doubt, there are countless many others who can make a similar claim.  There can be no doubt about it: Elie Wiesel was a gift from Hashem to humanity.  Without a doubt, it is true that, on the one hand, Mr. Wiesel shall always be missed.  On the other hand, though, there is the indisputable truth that his presence on earth constitutes a most majestic moral gift to humanity.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Self-Disclosure: A Moral Gift and A Moral Impropriety

Self-disclosure is very well defined.  The self-disclosure on Beta’s part could be about Beta’s economic resources or Beta’s dislike for a given individual or an absolutely horrific experience that Beta had.  And so on.  Typically, we have self-disclosure on the part of person Beta to person Gamma when person Beta offers information about her or his life to person Gamma.  I could say that Gamma would not have realized such a thing on her or his own (even though Gamma is a very perceptive and thoughtful person).  But I do not think that line of thought is correct.  It happens often enough that a very perceptive person can pick up on what is happening to another.  And if there is the possibility of enough harm, it can be ever so appropriate for the perceptive individual to approach the other person.

At any rate, with self-disclosure at its very best, an absolutely necessary condition is warranted trust in the person to whom the self-disclosure is being made.  So even though a person who self-discloses is only talking about herself or himself, an indisputable truth is that the self-disclosure on the person’s part can be ever so inappropriate in the absence of any evidence whatsoever that the person is trustworthy.  Even if a person very much needs someone to talk to, it is nonetheless utterly inappropriate for that person to talk with someone who is not trustworthy; for self-disclosing to an untrustworthy individual can do far more harm than good to the person who is self-disclosing.

Moving in a different direction, if an individual is indeed trustworthy, it should turn out from time to time that someone or the other will pick up on that.  About 10-years ago, a most fascinating instance of trustworthiness took place at Marshall Square Mall a female student told me that she is a lesbian.  The self-disclosure began with “Professor, I like the fact that you interact so comfortably with so many different kinds of people”.  And just as I was in the throes of basking in the compliment, the student then said “So I know that you will handle with grace my telling you that I am a lesbian”.  Fortunately, I came back with just the right remark, though my remark was not a response to her comment.  I said “It is my hope and prayer that your parents are fully comfortable with you being a lesbian and that their love for you has remained ever so majestic and affirming”.

Might there have been a more appropriate remark that I could made?  Perhaps.  But what I do know that the remark I made was taken by her as ever so accepting and affirming of her.

I went on to ask her why she was willing to disclosure her sexual orientation to me.  And she came back with a remark take from the novel A Color Purple, namely the following “A good listener listen not only to what one says but also to what one does not say”.  Well, the student had noticed that for all my spontaneity in the classroom, I never said or implied anything negative about this or that group of individuals.

Alas, one of the tremendously important gifts that we give to ourselves is to be sufficiently attentive that we can ascertain with whom we can and with whom we cannot have a deep and meaningful conversation that involves self-disclosure.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas


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The Gift of Trust Between Companion Friends

Trust is entirely without equal in terms of its significance.  Without trust, there can be no genuine romantic love.  Without trust there can be no genuine friendship.  Without trust, the parent-child relationship flounders and flounders mightily.  Without trust, some of the simplest forms of human interaction disintegrate.

Of course, trust is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon.  It is perfectly possible to trust a person in one respect and not another.  Quite interestingly, though, one form of trust between adult friends consists in each trusting that the other will not make any comments or inquiries with respect to her or his private life unless either (a) that “door of conversation” was explicitly opened by the other or (b) there is an extremely significant matter that absolutely needs to be discussed otherwise considerable harm is very likely come about.  An example of (b) would be that a horrific and false rumor about the friend has started circulating and it is manifestly clear that the friend needs to be made aware of that rumor in order to be able to address the matter.

For instance, suppose that the rumor is that Jacque spent the weekend in Brazil, whereas in point of fact Jacque did no such thing.  Well, there are no particularly negative implications that are occasioned by that rumor.  One the one hand, then, Jacque would hardly need to spend a lot of time correcting that rumor.  On the other hand, it is quite clear that Jacque needs to make sure his best friend knows that no such trip took place.  Likewise, Jacque’s best friend should seek clarity about what happened and Jacque should expect his best friend so to behave.  For one sign of tremendous trust between any two close friends is the tremendous clarity that they voluntarily bring to their interactions with one another, where it is absolutely clear that in the absence of some major issue neither will proceed beyond the boundaries of trust that are in place.

Trust is so significant to friendship at its best that if the trust is violated by a friend and there is absolutely no efficacious excusing condition, then there is a truly profound respect in which that violation is likely to end the friendship.  An example of an efficacious excusing condition would be that the friend had been forcefully or unwittingly drugged.

The profound and majestic trust of companion friendship is inextricably tied to the deep and ever so warranted belief on the part of each friend that the other has the self-command to fully respect the self-disclosures of the other.  And for any morally decent person, that is a most profound form of affirmation.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Brock Turner and Brock Turner’s Parents

For loving parents, surely one of their most painful moments in life is that of having their child commit a horrifically evil act.  Indisputably, the act of rape clearly counts as such an evil act.  This is particularly the case when it is utterly indisputable that an act of rape was committed.  Alas, that is the case with Brock Turner who raped an intoxicated and unconscious female.  Turner’s parents are begging that a measure of mercy be shown to their son.  It goes without saying that there are times when a measure of mercy is ever so appropriate with respect to a wrongful act that a person committed.  I can make sense of a starving and homeless person stealing some food.  Or, if a person of ethnicity Alpha has been brutally beaten on two different occasions by persons of ethnicity Gamma, then I can make sense of that person of ethnicity Alpha being generally afraid of persons of ethnicity Gamma, even though two occasions of being beaten-up by persons of ethnicity Gamma hardly entails that Gamma folks in general are inclined physically attack person of ethnicity Alpha.

Alas, the raping of an unconscious woman by a male requires a truly horrific level of moral callousness on the part of the male—so much so that I can only regard such an individual as evil.  For raping a person is not just a matter of giving into a temptation analogous to committing a simple act of thievery such as stealing a bag of potato-chips whilst walking out the store or lying to a friend that one left one’s money home when in point of fact one has significant amount of money on one’s person.  And so on.  Some people think that it is always wrong to lie.  But an immutable truth is that it is not at all the case that every lie constitutes a significant harm to the person who was lied to.

By definition, rape constitutes committing a quite significant act with a person’s body without that person’s permission, where the aim of committing the significant person is not to help the person by, for example, minimizing some deep pain that the individual is suffering.  Quite the contrary.  Rape is unequivocally a matter of person Beta using to his sexual satisfaction the body of person Zed entirely without the permission of person Zed—indeed, even without the form of approval by way of non-verbal behavior that indicates acceptance on the part of Zed of what Beta is doing to Zed.

What makes it so very, very, very obvious that rape is utterly vicious is just the fact that (i) rape is entirely without consent and (ii) the rapist could surely achieve a quite breath-taking orgasm on his own.  And the point just made holds all the more when the rapist is raping a woman who is essentially unconscious.  Thus, what surely follows is that a male who commits rape is psychologically deranged.  And this derangement is not an excusing condition.  Quite the contrary, given the knowledge that one is so deranged, it thereby follows that one has a profound moral obligation to take the appropriate precautions in just the way that an alcoholic, for instance, must take the appropriate precautions.

I take it as a given that every human being has quite intense sexual feelings from time to time upon which she or he absolutely should not act.  Alas, part of what distinguishes human beings from all other living creatures is precisely the fact that we have the wherewithal to bring it about that we do not to act upon such intense feelings.  In the language of the great economist and philosopher Adam Smith, human beings are capable of exercising the appropriate measure of self-command whereby they bring it about that they do not perform the action that they fully grasp that they should not perform.  All that is necessary is a gesture whereby one distracts oneself.  And technology reveals that human beings are absolutely masterful being the source of their own distraction.

The very nature of the sex act is such that it is essentially impossible not to see the significance of what we are doing in engaging in the sex act with a person.  Accordingly, we mightily grasp the ways in which our sexual behavior would be inappropriate.  No male in his right mind could think “Ah hah, she is unconscious.  So she must want me to have sex with her.”

A final comment.  Increasingly, it seems to me that one of the major drawbacks of modernity is that our reflective powers are diminishing to a considerable degree.  Brock Turner’s parents strike me as a most poignant illustration of that reality.  They seem more distraught by the 6-month jail sentence that their son received than they do by the fact that he committed an ever so morally despicable act, namely rape.  Indeed, it is easier to make moral sense of someone mistakenly killing an innocent person than it is to make moral sense of the act of rape.  If, nowadays, it is increasingly the case that true parental love is thought to entail that a 23-year old child’s voluntary committing of an act that the 23-year old knows to be quite horrific and morally wrong to another is somehow excusable, then parental love is increasingly becoming none other than the very handmaiden of evil.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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