Ladies and gentlemen, some things are black and white, right and wrong. It’s okay to say so. Genocide? Never okay. Incest? Wrong. Child abuse? Wrong again. Rape? Bad. Mugging senior citizens? Not the done thing.
See how that goes? Judging those things as wrong was very black and white of me. I said those things were BAD. Unequivocally bad.
Probably because every example I gave was of a powerful person(s) exerting control over someone and rendering them powerless for some sick purpose. (Their extinction, an orgasm, a wallet.)
Other crimes are harder to call out, like cheating and stealing. Well, maybe they fell in love! Or maybe they really needed the money!
Last example first. Maybe a poor person really needed to steal that loaf of bread to exist. So it’s a powerless person taking back power from a powerful person (someone with bread to spare).
Cheating is often cast this way. It’s a sad sausage taking back power from the powerful societal forces of monogamy that compelled him against his or her will to stay in a loveless, sexless, marriage.
Versus the truth — that cheating is a way of exerting power over someone else unknowingly, using them to their advantage, and extracting value from them. It’s cake eating. Otherwise they’d have an honest conversation, or lawyer up and divorce.
Society still sees stealing as wrong, and our legal codes try to address degrees of wrong doing, extentuating circumstances, etc. It doesn’t stop seeing stealing as wrong, just because there are degrees of wrong or extenuating circumstances. There’s a baseline of wrongness.
To say you’re dumbing down to “black and white” thinking for calling something wrong puts you out of line with most legal codes and religious traditions in the world.
Now, may I make a subtle distinction please? (Yes, Chump Lady is capable of subtlety, shocking I know.)
It’s one thing to say something is WRONG, it’s quite another thing to say what you are going to do about it.
Stealing is wrong. Are we going to chop off hands?
To argue that stealing is wrong does NOT mean you are in favor of chopping off hands. Get me?
A comment from Civilian Casualty Bride whose letter I answered the other day:
I realize that things are pretty black and white here, and that any amount of cheating by anyone means that the cheater should be abandoned on a deserted island immediately by people who never imagined the day before that they were capable of such a betrayal. That is not realistic.
Nobody made that argument.
I will cop to “black and white” thinking about cheating. Cheating is wrong, there is no excuse for it. None. Not in a world that gives people free choice about who they marry and viable options of therapy and divorce. Cheaters consented to marriage. No one forced them against their will to marry or agree to monogamy.
To say that cheating is wrong is very different than saying every cheater “should be abandoned on a deserted island immediately.”
That’s making the stealing-is-wrong-chop-off-their-hands leap.
Making that leap is a way to discredit people who call out something as wrong.
All of us must judge what our deal breakers are in this life, and weigh circumstances accordingly. I don’t argue for punishment for cheaters, or abandoning them on islands (although a shuttle service to Planet Narcissist would be nice). I argue for leaving them. Get away, go no contact, get on with your life. That’s punishment enough. Deny them of your awesomeness.
That’s for the folks you’re married to though. And obviously, even that is a very personal call. We all have different deal breakers. Some people reconcile. Some people divorce.
We all have to know our values and what we will and will not tolerate. Where our lines are. Some people draw lines more broadly than others. They may not vote for a politician who cheated. Or want their gallbladder taken out by a philandering surgeon.
Some relationships are chosen, and some relationships are unchosen. How you treat a cheating parent is different than how you treat a cheating spouse or friend.
The point of this blog is to get you to examine your choices. And realize that you HAVE a choice.
However, when you hang around people who do “wrong” things, and those values don’t align with your values, it chips at your soul. It erodes your sense of yourself. You become someone who makes excuses and creates extenuating circumstances to align their “wrong” with your value system. You spackle.
And then you often find yourself in the shit, when this person turns their powers of wrong on you.
Much better to call a thing a thing and know where you stand.
But I’m just black and white that way.
This column ran previously. Feel free to comment!