Have you ever woken up in the morning and for one brief moment been completely at peace? The Sun is streaming through the window. Birds are chirping. Your bed is warm and comfortable. You feel relaxed and rested. It’s your day off.
Then you remember something bad that went on at work, the fight you had with your significant other or family member, or a health problem. In an instant, peace is transformed into worry, depression, and pain.
At this point you have a decision to make, you can keep pondering your problems or you can go back to the way you were before, blissful and ignorant.
Easier said than done, but it puts you in an ethical dilemma. Dare you give yourself permission to forget?
Each of us feels a moral obligation to solve life’s problems, to not let them fester and grow. When you were a child, your parents may have taught you to brush your teeth, lest they rot and fall out. You were to pick up your things and put them away, lest they become a hazard underfoot. You had a duty to keep life in order, and as a child when life was simple that was easy though it may not have seemed so at the time.
Most children treat such activities with disdain and happily forget all about them as they enjoy themselves, only to whine, when their parents ask them why they haven’t kept up with these things, that they forgot.
Oh, to have the forgetfulness of a child again!
As we enter adulthood, life seems to become an endless stream of tasks: do the laundry, get the oil changed, find an exercise routine, find a spouse, perfect the marriage, get your kids up and make them brush their teeth and pick up their rooms.
Somewhere in there we make room for fun, relaxation, and something called “self-care”. In adulthood these are rare respites from the constant churn of activity. When life gets dull, the lack of more and better opportunities for fun, getaways, and relaxing times can feel like a problem in itself. A bad vacation isn’t just a bad time but a lost opportunity for a good one. A night wasted channel surfing or on social media is a lost chance to enjoy a good movie or a good book.
Every time we judge ourselves, our lives, and their lack of perfection, every time we blame ourselves for not doing the right self-care routines or for not being able to fix our problems with our relationships, even every time we pat ourselves on the back for briefly enjoying ourselves or for being successful, we are making an ethical judgement.
Most of us, when we use words like, “I should do better” or “I shouldn’t have failed” don’t realize the power we are invoking. We are in a sense comparing our mundane reality with a numinous power far, far greater than we can understand or even express, and that is dangerous.
An ethical judgment is a judgement of absolute value as opposed to relative value. Wittgenstein explains this with an analogy,
Supposing that I could play tennis and one of you saw me playing and said “Well, you play pretty badly” and suppose I answered “I know, I’m playing badly but I don’t want to play any better,” all the other man could say would be “Ah then that’s all right.”
This is a judgement of relative value. It is a mere statement of facts. But an ethical judgement, because it is one of absolute value, means that you “should” want to behave better.
When we judge ourselves for not solving our problems, not doing better in our relationships, being more successful at work, or having more fun and exciting lives, we are turning what are statements of facts into evaluations of absolute value.
When we don’t allow ourselves let go and forget, when we keep churning our problems over and over in our minds instead of going back to a blissful state, it is often because we cannot give ourselves permission to do so since we “should” want to do better.
Any judgement of absolute value necessarily must be a judgement of supernatural value because nothing natural can be described with anything more than facts, which are always of relative value. The universe plays itself out as it always has. Our lives, likewise, follow natural laws. No mortal can apply absolute value to anything you do, not you, not your neighbor. Hence, when we apply judgement to our actions and thoughts we are applying the judgement of God.
Thus, our judgement of ourselves assumes that God has ordered our behavior and that our failures are offenses to the Almighty. This is clearly wrong. Unless we are referring to some clear ethical issue like lying, stealing, murder, etc., then our other judgements are of relative, not absolute value. They are simply statements of facts, an expression of the natural reality of the world no different than saying the Earth spins about its axis once a day.
Hence, when you wake up one day and your problems come to mind, these are mere facts assailing your brain. You are free, therefore, to say that you don’t want to get any better right now and forget.
If you say, but wait, shouldn’t I want to get better? Then you are making an absolute judgement. You are essentially interpreting God’s will for yourself. But who are you to play God?
Life is full of ugliness but also beauty.
Wittgenstein considered ethics and aesthetics to be the same. A good life is a beautiful life and vice versa.
A beautiful life is not one spent in worry or chasing after perfection but one spent in appreciating the beauty and goodness around it. How can you do that if you are constantly trying to solve all your problems?
Children seem to have inherently beautiful lives, especially small children who haven’t learned to worry yet. They spend their time in delighting in all that surrounds them, not because so much is new to them, but they have not learned to make so many judgments yet. At each new experience, they forget the what happened before and delight in the next one.
Living a beautiful life, therefore, means giving yourself permission to forget and let go of ugliness and not feel morally obliged to embrace problem solving trends.
Joy in the morning can remain all day if you let it.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. “I: A lecture on ethics.” The philosophical review 74.1 (1965): 3–12.
One thought on “It is ok to let go and forget”
True, and yet, if I don’t pay attention to the things put in front of me, where I COULD take what I’ve been gifted with, to make beautiful for another, where chaos and ugly reign, just now, if they are in need? Then how, ever, will I be surrounded, in my own locale, by the very beauty and goodness I seek? This, for me, is the point I continue to struggle with, when reading over and over, perspectives such as you list here – and still struggle with it – I do not awaken pain free, or with no worries – I have only the waking up – the blessings of the day and then the day plays out when ugly shows up – in the lives of others around me or for me – and to sit and not do what I’m capable of doing, offering, etc., seems as if I’m wasting what I have been given – but that’s just my current story on such things – it may change – 😀