If You Have to Cross a Moral Swamp, a Map is Always a Good Idea

morality self-limiting beliefs wealth

The e-mail I sent out this past weekend was about developing an awareness of the way we construct our morality and whether it restricts or enables us. In a nutshell:

  1. A morality basically tells us how we should behave to be happy/good people
  2. Moralities can be stated in two ways:
    1. To be good, you must not-do/avoid/exclude X.
    2. To be good, you must do/include/experience Y.
  3. While on the surface, the end result may be the same, the first morality leads to a sense of constant wariness, while the other leads to a stance of accepting life's opportunities.

When we adopt the first view, we tend to avoid knowledge of anything associated with immorality. Just to be safe, we expand our buffer zone of ignorance, exclusion, and restriction to protect the purity of our selves. We want nothing to do with it, and if we have to cross through something we've deemed immoral to live our lives, we do our best to make it a hurried scurry across the surface rather than an informed and careful exploration of the depths.

The result is that we always fumble through the swamp, making a mess of the place and ourselves, because we never take the time to learn the most efficient paths. In fact, familiarity (or even the desire to gain familiarity), is itself considered suspect. And so, we stumble through these difficult sections of our lives, refusing to expand our worldviews, grumbling about how murky the swamp is, both jealous and suspicious of those who can navigate its depths, even as we rely on them for help.

A Very Strange View On Money

I came upon this distinction when I was talking with a friend about money and learned how my concept of good vs. bad was making it very difficult for me to actually support myself. He would suggest a way to generate wealth, and I would look for some way it would be 'immoral'

When I got to that last one, I realized how problematic my belief system was. I also realized that my morality shifted when we were talking about money: I was more than happy to make stretch promises to motivate myself to grow beyond my comfort zone; I have no problem noticing fitness needs and offering solutions. I could do all these things, as long as money was not involved.

For some reason, my morality regarding money was extremely restrictive. It created so many ways for me to mess up and slip into 'sin'. I was totally paralyzed, and it actually encouraged my ignorance. To KNOW was to sin.

Somewhere along the way, I had come to believe that for me to gain money, somebody else had to lose it. By this perception, for me to be wealthy was selfish. Sure, other people were entitled to their happiness, but I had irrationally associated my poverty with the well-being of the world.

I never said it made any sense.

Learning From Past Successes

I had had this same problem with intimate relationships. I was convinced that actually courting a girl with any skill was the mark of a manipulative jerk. True love just happened!

Of course, that's not how it works. Gentlemen are honest and respectful, but they also know how to entertain, flirt, and seduce. They just do those things with consideration and clear motives.

Eventually, I realized that my denial was hurting not just me, but my partners as well. So, I decided to try a different approach and actually learn how to court. I made some mistakes and hurt some feelings, but eventually, I learned that it's not the action itself that's immoral, but the way it's handled.

It turned out I was already doing everything I thought immoral; I was just doing it unconsciously and thus sloppily. Seduction can be a kind, considerate, mutually enjoyable interaction, or it can be manipulative and seedy. When you're bad at it (because you deny the fact that you need to do it and so remain ignorant), it's more likely to be the latter. For some reason, it is excusable to be bad at seduction due to ignorance, even if it hurts people, but it's taboo to actually learn how to do it right.

Similarly with selling. Selling is an integral part of generating wealth. In most cases, if you've ever made any money, you've sold something. Even being paid for a job required you to sell your skills to your employer. There are ways to go about selling that aren't self-deprecating, sleazy or dishonest. But when you're inexperienced and clumsy, you're more likely to come off as phony and pushy. Or you'll simply undervalue yourself, which can sour the relationship with resentment.

In order to get to the point where it is natural, respectful, and even appreciated, you have to make some mistakes and learn how to do it right.

Where does your definition of right and wrong start getting in the way of your happiness? Are you preventing yourself from learning essential skills because 'only desperate people go there?' Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: MikeLove on Flickr