“to better” as a verb, meaning to undergo betterment”
If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
imagine this scene. a 5 year old decides to follow his curious inclination which leads him to the stove. he can see himself in the see-through glass and amused by his own reflection. this suspends his imagination for minutes on end. then he starts to look up, and his eyes meet this round silvery object, and all he can see is the object itself. he is too small to see the flame. or know what the big black nob does. his curiosity inspires him to grab a nearby chair that others use to sit on, but he has found another use, standing! he uses a nearby wall to help him get up onto the chair which he has so aptly placed in front of the stove. then he proceeds to reach for the silvery object. and then like a narrator’s voice in a god-like tone, the mother steps forward and shouts in slo-motion, “S-T-O-P!”
that child in that moment learned something. they learned that grabbing for the silvery object will get you in trouble. that is their first lesson in meta-ethics. that there are things (generally speaking) that are wrong to do. now, whether that child learns the first time around is another story. let’s say they do. then from that point forward their ethics are being formed. they are learning the difference between right and wrong, although they may not have the skills to express that yet. throughout their life during their childhood, children tend to get taught was is right, and what is wrong. in highschool this is more formed by the company one keeps.
if smoking is cool than in that context smoking is cool, although that child might know deep down their parents might not approve (or they might approve, depending upon the parents). their structure of ethics changes as time goes on. while they live at home they learn that there are acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. while they are school, they too learn what is acceptable and unacceptable depending on their context. as they become a permanent member of society, they too learn what are the meta-ethics that have been placed in society. (Yet, we say we’re free, but there are laws we are under, a conundrum). the tendency though with the language of right and wrong is that when we use this language we perpetuate a shame that comes with the unacceptable behaviour. so, if a person is taught that sex before marriage is wrong than when/if they have sex before matrimony they tend to not want to make the act public because of fear of rejection, no matter how ‘cool’ they might be seen by their peers (this isn’t always the case mind you).
what if there are words that we could use that wouldn’t be about judgement? (I am not saying we don’t need rights and wrongs, or that they don’t exist, but I want to shed light on the value of using different words instead). words that weren’t built around the idea that someone can only change if they feel some sort of shame. much like the character in Nathanial Hawthorne’s novel ‘The Scarlet Letter’.
if we spend our time chasing down others for certain behaviours, or stand outside of a building chanting against others, what we are essentially saying is that those people don’t deserve to be treated equally. that their behaviour has merited them shame. that their behaviour must be publicly announced and that they should be proverbially ‘burned at the stake!’ at the heart of pointing the finger is this need to justify the mob-mentality towards ethics. so, are there universal ethics that should be followed, sure. life is sacred. i think that’s a good one to start with, however one decides to perpetuate and protect one’s life and the life of another, it should be done. but what about universal meta-ethics for life? should those be adhered to? should we have a canon or list of do’s and dont’s?
some religious anthropologists state that religion was developed to ‘keep the peace’, to promote harmony. to invite a communal way of living. in this ever-shifting culture, that ethos is becoming that much harder to sustain. but should it be sustained? should it have even been introduced?
i do believe that there are life ethics that should be adhered to, like the one i shared above. i think that’s a good place to start because it includes a lot of our general behaviours and worldviews about what it means to protect and defend life. but i am sure there are more. but this post isnt about that. its about creating more substantial terminology that isn’t so emotionally degrading.
as you can see from above, the word ‘better’ in verb form means to ‘undergo betterment’, if you listen closely-its about
. its about growth. and its on the person themselves to undergo betterment. and to undergo something is an ongoing process. when we undergo some sort of therapy we are essentially saying that we are still in process. this is the same with the verb better. there is still hope and it resides in the gap between what is and what could be. that, for most, is the journey of life, that we are all undergoing betterment. but, when we choose the path of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ we stop progress in its tracks. we make ethics into absolutism. we pre-judge a person based on a/a series of choices. we then become the determinants of what is the acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. we are also saying subconsciously that (1) we are better than them and (2) that they aren’t good enough.
Yet, Christianity is a faith that says we are more than good enough. (If we take the traditional story of Jesus as one who came to die on the cross for our sins*, than this is the direct truth that we are all worth it). In there has to be a middle road, one where moral absolutism doesn’t just tyrannically run free. And a place where moral relativity doesn’t destroy shop windows. Maybe we can find that morals can be absolutely relative or relatively absolute, moreso in terms of personal development. The language of right and wrong tends to have socially colonizing overtones. It also says that everyone is required to ‘toe the line’. That if someone breaks the mold, they have gone rogue or they disrespect everyone else. The Pharisees were moral absolutists. They even turned certain practices into morals (ex: Sabbath) and if you didn’t follow them the way they were written than all hell would break loose. Some might say they were following the Torah Law which God had spent time sharing with Moses, however, Jesus wasn’t always directly responding against the law, he was responding on their interpretations of the law that created exclusion. An important difference to notice.
Right and wrong don’t believe someone is capable of making better decisions. It says that their hands have to be held. Yet, Jesus says I have come to set you free. Moral absolutism doesn’t set people free, it cages them. It forces them to follow the cookie-cutter pattern to discovery. The language of better says that we believe in that person’s potential for them to discover that they are capable of being the best them, however that process of discover looks for them.
Better empowers people to be better.
It believes in humanity and its ability to get it ‘right’.
It believes in the potential of all humankind to live out as they are meant to be, it gives each person the opportunity to journey into the unknown aspects of discovering what it looks like to be a better person. Now, that is good.
*I personally don’t agree to the orthodox interpretation of Jesus’ death. I think he was dying to show us that love was the ‘better’ response to oppression.