Posted by: terrapraeta | February 15, 2010

From the Archives: Childhood Ethics


Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be,
The pains that are withheld for me,
I realize and I can see…

That suicide is painless,
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.

The game of life is hard to play,
I’m going to loose it anyway,
The loosin’ card I’ll someday lay;
So this is all I have to say…

Mike Altman/Johnny Mandel, (MASH Themesong) Suicide is Painless

When I was a child… probably nine or ten… I watched TV miniseries with my folks: [u]Masada[/u]. I would assume that everyone knows what it was about, if you don’t remember seeing it yourself, but just in case, Masada was a Jewish fortress where the final battle between the Jews and the Romans played out in AD 73. When the Jews realized that they were going to be overrun, they chose to commit suicide rather than allowing the Romans to enslave them.(more)

Having grown up in a secular household, I knew nothing about the story prior to watching the film. I was quite drawn in. And I didn’t know the end, so of course I believed that the Jews would be triumphant. After all, they were portrayed as the ‘good guys’ in this conflict. Imagine my surprise and emotional response when I saw the end.

There is a reason, of course, that this memory has been haunting me lately. Its not the film, itself, or the events it portrayed. Rather, its the conversation that took place afterwards. I watched the film, I sympathized, and I understood why they did what they did. It was horrific but it was also a choice I could see myself making. Then my dad tossed out a comment about how WRONG they were. There was absolutely no room for consideration. No room for circumstance. No room for understanding. You simply do not commit suicide, period.

I was shocked. I disagreed. How could he say that? Death or Slavery? That sounds like a choice to me. And a choice that I would absolutely consider. But of course, I was nine, so my thoughts on the matter were completely juvenile and irrelevant. The conversation did not progress and I was left somewhat bemused.

So I have two questions. How does a child come to have a view of the world that is diametrically opposed to the view of their parents? And, however it happens, is this a fundamental part of our nature. Are we born with some sort of natural proclivity towards certain ethical beliefs?

Now, it does occur to me that I may know the answer to this one. As I said, I was raised in a fully secular household. Yet my mother was raised Lutheran, my father Southern Baptist. Although they turned away from those teachings, obviously remnants remain. Is that the answer, though? It may answer the question ‘why did he feel that way’, but I’m not sure it gets me any closer to why I felt the way that I did (and do).

As I grew up, the disagreements increased. His respect for my view hasn’t – but that’s another issue all together. (He has gradually come to respect my intelligence, but his respect for my opinion has never changed.) I have a fundamentally different view of the world from my parents. Politics, economics, religion, family ‘values’…. whatever the topic we are virtually diametrically opposed.

I would really like to understand why. Maybe it is a pipe dream, but it seems that IF I understood the why, I might be a step closer to closing the divide. Not just with them, but across the board.

So if anyone has similar moments in their past, I would love to hear about them. Perhaps enumeration will allow us to formulate a theory. Or if anyone has a theory already, then please….

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