We humans are so contrary.
We know what we know. We feel what we feel. We express ourselves with aggressive assurance. We’re not simply secure in our certitude. We are empowered by it. We say so, mostly by letting the world know what we will not do or say or accept.
We’re becoming a nation of never-sayers.
I get that we’re all compelled to comment. Why not, when social media makes sharing opinions easy? I’m doing just that with this essay. I’ve even made some money editorializing. Sometimes we just want to contribute or share in a communal sense of belonging. Far more often, though, it seems we’re prodded by our visceral reactions to register our objections.
Some of this is born out of our penchant for indignation. As I’ve noted elsewhere, we become so incensed so often by so many things that we lose any sense of proportion. Not all things require moral outrage.
“I never” is an absolute statement. The problem with such statements is they’re absolute. There’s no wiggle room, no possible change. Sure there are things we don’t or won’t do, actions that are morally reprehensible or profoundly uncomfortable. There are lines we don’t want to cross. And sometimes we need to take a stand.
On the other hand, flexibility doesn’t automatically indicate a lack of ethical fiber. Sometimes it simply demonstrates an understanding of life’s realities. Sometimes positions evolve and thoughts are redirected by experience. Not everyone who has a change of heart is calculating. Not everyone who refuses to change is noble.
The unconditional declaration carries about it the whiff of moral superiority, especially when it’s inappropriately deployed. “I never eat meat” isn’t an offensive stance but why bring it up, as one commenter did, in a forum about the best way to cook hamburger? And if you “never watch television,” we lovers of “Game of Thrones” don’t need to hear from you.
Those are exaggerated examples. It’s obvious that one can stick to one’s preferences without inadvertently (or purposefully) shaming someone whose tastes are different.
But in these fraught times, the never-sayers are invading discussions about more serious issues. There is no dialogue, only my (right) way and your (wrong) way. Our political leaders have set the tone. The U.S. Congress has, for eight years, said “no” and “never” to nearly everything. Now this new “never” land we walk through threatens discussion, not to mention any chance of cooperation or consensus.
The situation isn’t unique to one country, of course. Digging in one’s heels seems to be a global problem.
I’m not a fan of “never.” I know there are people who believe it represents strength, resilience, even courage. To me it’s a dead-end, a closed door, a steel trap, less principled than petulant.