Sunday, October 28, 2012

The righteous sleep worse than the wicked

I think about that moment when someone asks the bad guy, "How do you sleep at night?"  The person who is exploiting other human beings or outright endangering them for some gain or another; "How do you sleep?" the outraged dissident asks them.

How well?

Probably pretty well, is my guess.  Poor sleep is a sign of guilt or worry or that nagging voice in the back of your mind, or that upsetting confrontation replaying itself over and over; if you've made the decision to behave in a way that disregards human dignity, and to continue to behave that way, you've probably decided that (a) it's worth it, (b) they deserve it, or (c) that's just the way the world works.  You're satisfied with that answer and have abdicated any responsibility you might feel for it.  There will be nothing to trouble your sleep until something worms its way past the surface.  If anything ever does.

I think about the ethical repercussions of everything I do; my purchases, my causes, my behavior.  I have an idea of the world I want to live in, a few clear principles I value, and I make my decisions based on those values, on making that world come to be.  I behave as rationally and compassionately as I can.  I apply this as broadly as I can.  I try to respect my fellow human beings and take responsibility for my actions as they extend out beyond me to touch those fellow human beings.  And when I play out the repercussions of policies I think are destructive or inhumane, I also try to find a way to not paint someone who supports that policy with that color, try to give them the benefit of the doubt in considering what aims they might have or what different theories of behavior, of government, and so on they might ascribe to.  Or if that fails outright, try to believe they're still a good person--just one with some gaping holes in their understanding.

I'm the one who doesn't sleep at night.

I believe I'm right; I don't believe everyone who disagrees with me is evil; I satisfy myself that I am doing my part to make a better world and living up to my own standards, while still allowing myself enough slack to not go insane.  But I lie awake having imaginary arguments with people I believe are good people, trying to get them to understand a point of view I think is righteous.  I replay moments of people I know expressing some sentiment I think is abhorrent, and of me being too struck dumb to say anything to propose an alternative--and then imagine alternate endings, standing up to their ignorance or unkindness either destructively, by indulging my insult and taking them apart, or constructively, by starting a conversation, sharing information.  But I lie awake when I think I have managed to do that, too, dissecting the conversation, wondering about the fallout, wondering if I've done any good, and wondering whether I have lost a friend or failed a cause or both.  I look forward in fear to the next conversation, the next confrontation, the next election.

I wonder whether I have done any good at all.

I'm the one who doesn't sleep at night.