It has come to my belief that there are no good or evil actions. There is no good or evil anything save for the values or condemnation we ascribe to anything. Whether a book is revered or banned (and subsequently burnt), whether a man is worshipped or horsewhipped, whether a woman is described as a whore or a goddess has very little consequence on the scheme of the whole of everything else. Because it is my belief that neither the book, the man, nor the woman is good or evil. What matters more is not what is ascribed to a thing, but the perception itself that says more about the perceiver than it does the true nature of the thing.

If this were a matter of importance, then individuals would be more concerned with what their perceptions say about them to others, than it would about the thing they are perceiving, and the values they attach to that thing. It is not the book or the man or the woman, then, on which we pass judgement through our perceptions it is ourselves. But most people fail to recognize that.

The book is neither good nor evil. If it offends our sensibilities, it is only because our sensibilities have taught us to be offended by such matter. Whatever a book espouses, it is very simple to lay it aside, and to leave with our belief and value systems intact. It is only when we read its contents while wearing rosy spectacles ground out by religion, politics, or society that its content becomes acceptable or putrid.

A book is merely words strung together forming sentences that make up motifs and themes. Separate the book from the reader for a moment. What perceptions do we have of one reader who rips the book to shreds in anger and disgust, damning it as heresy or lasciviousness, and the other reader who is perhaps merely puzzled? Who shrugs in acceptance, knowing that he does not have to abandon his beliefs to understand the book, nor condemn the book simply because his beliefs demand or expect it. What different visions we have of the two readers, not based upon their beliefs, but simply of their perceptions of the exact same book?

It is the point that one can be open-minded without abandoning belief. But whether that belief is intrinsic or extrinsic is another matter entirely. (If a belief is intrinsic, it exists for its own sake in the mind of the individual, and does not necessarily curtail any actions or thoughts separate and apart from the belief. An extrinsic belief simply does not allow any actions or thoughts contrary to itself at all. An intrinsic belief is created by and exists for the individual. An extrinsic belief controls and is created by a source outside the individual. In other words, an extrinsic belief must be indoctrinated.)

So too our perceptions of people. A long-haired young man walks down the street, wearing ripped jeans, steel-toed boots, and a leather jacket, tattoos and piercings adorning his body. One individual is disgusted at this display, condemning the young man for making a spectacle of himself, for so blatantly rubbing the fur of proper behavior and appearances the wrong way. If this is the young man's aim, then with this individual, his motive has been fulfilled.

A second person views this young man, and shrugs, for although tattoos and lip piercings are not his "thing," and though he knows tattoos and piercings are generally not most people's "thing," he does not condemn the man underneath the trappings. There is not much difference in these two perceptions, except as much, perhaps, in the expressions of them. What if it were known that the young man in question was an accomplished artist and musician, had traveled the world extensively, and possessed not one but three degrees from learned institutions? What it says, is, that perceptions say more about the perceiver than the perceived.

A true story: An adolescent was filling his car at the gas station. A wool hat pulled low over a sullen face, rough clothes fitted him, and he glared about under lowed brows. Another person, wearing a business suit, and also filling up on gas, noticed his car. "That's a nice '64 1/2 Mustang you have," was called across the divide of culture, norms, and values. "Gee, thanks! No one ever said anything before," and suddenly, the divide was no longer as great. The first perception of a good-for-nothing punk kid was quickly replaced by a slightly misunderstood, but seeking acceptance, young man.

The map is not the territory, so wrote Hiyakawa. It seems however that most people would truly rather believe in their maps that so inaccurately (most of the time) depict the territories. And with so many maps floating about describing the same territory, who is to be said to be right or wrong? It is a matter of recognizing both the map and the territory each for what it is. The territory (the book, the man or the woman) is simply there. Until we perceive of it and ascribe some label to it (positive or negative), it is an entity of neutrality. When we apply our map to the territory, we discover fit. Does the territory fit the map we have been provided by society, religion, or politics? If it does, then it is good. If not, then not. What we fail to recognize is this: That we cannot shape the territory to fit the map it simply is what it is and most refuse to amend the one thing that is malleable: the map of our belief and value system.

It is not what a book says that disturbs us. It is not what others do that annoys and confuses us. It is what the book says about ourselves that disturbs us most. It is what an action says about our own actions or inactions that annoys us. When he reads such material or views such behavior, the individual who holds any beliefs too stringently actually condemns himself for allowing his mind to slip from the path the belief has blazed for him, not the book or the individual. What speaks volumes of the individual, and not the "thing" perceived, is in that one single moment of perception when the individual recognizes that others hold beliefs that strongly opposes his own. And yet again, the conjectured map that says other people believe what I believe, does not match the actual territory.

It is about time we stopped living in our good/evil world-within-the-world, employing outdated and misdrawn maps against which we try to force the territory to conform. It would be much easier to begin living in the territory itself, which is to say, to see the territory simply for what it is devoid of positive or negative connotations. It simply is.

my stories | the art of being human