This I Believe

Jane - Seattle, Washington
Entered on April 6, 2005
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: setbacks
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When I was a child, I believed the world was about to end in nuclear conflagration. My mother told me: “The trouble with expecting disaster is that it might not happen.” We need to plan, in other words, to be around for the long haul. I try to keep that in mind these days, in my middle age, even as it looks more and more likely that my species will destroy the world not with a bang but with the whimper of ecological collapse. If medical science continues to advance, I may be unlucky enough to outlive the polar bears. All of them.

What works for me is to believe in moral relationship. That means I assume there is a right way (and many wrong ways) to live in relation to every other element of the world. Because the rightness inheres in the relationship, it is not a matter of my preferences or of how like me is the person, place, or thing to which I relate. It doesn’t even matter how much I like the other side of the equation. Whether I love or hate or am indifferent in any particular instance, I still can try to find in myself the quality of attention and the behavior or action that make the relationship just, equitable, and, where possible, an expression of moral force leaning gently towards what might be called love.

I believe it is unnecessary and counter-productive to limit moral attention to narrowly conceived “moral issues.” Every day that is part of our lives is full of opportunities to notice and adjust ourselves to the way everything around us – seen and unseen, close enough to touch or bound to us by a chain of consequences a thousand miles long – requires the respectful attention of our best, most morally conscious selves. Why assume our moral capacity depends on rules made for us from outside the natural world, especially when accepting those rules so often has been taken to imply that whatever is not covered by those rules doesn’t count.

I believe it all counts.

No doubt our beliefs are shaped in large part by what we need. Part of what we need consists of what we need to avoid. In my case, autism makes me need to avoid much of what gives other lives meaning. My capacity for sustained interaction with other humans is limited. One result is that I do much of my relating with the non-human aspects of the world; they are so much more accepting of what non-autistic humans see as my deficits. For me it seems to be true – I believe it to be true – that the nature of the relationship is what matters. We are shaped by our interactions and by how we choose to engage with the world. A life shaped by conscientious relationship can be full of meaning, even if there is only one human involved.