Wednesday, November 14, 2012

If it feels good, do it

When I first heard the term situational ethics in a university sociology class in the late 1960s, I thought, “What freedom—to decide what’s right depending on the situation! How cool is that?” A few years later, I was thrilled to get an in-your-face-neon-green bumper sticker that urged If it feels good, do it. Although I apparently wasn’t convinced enough of its truth to boldly display it on my trusty ’64 Malibu’s chrome bumper, I did display it—taped on the inside of the lid of my portable gray metal file box.

Although the box contained mostly folders of paid utility bills, I also kept a small notebook of poems in it. When my boyfriend at the time discovered the little lock on the box’s front was locked and I wouldn’t give him the key, he deduced I must be writing poems about other loves, flew into a jealous rage, and kicked in the lid. Ironically, he did no damage to the If it feels good, do it bumper sticker, nor did he access my poems, which, also ironically, expressed my pained loneliness in my relationship with him. At least he did what felt right to him in the moment, though—despite the fact that by anyone but a sociopath’s standards, what he did was a violently disrespectful, damaging expression of anger.

In the 40-plus years since then, I’ve learned a bit more about standards. Those lessons have often come when I followed my feelings, in other words, practiced situational ethics. I’ve discovered it is not freedom at all. Here is just one example:

When my boss [Liz] told spiteful lies about me to my coworkers [In fact, she walked through the office singing those lies], horrified voices shrieked from my wounded heart that I should badmouth her to my coworkers. I knew I’d find sympathy among them, because Liz was in general small and unkind. In addition, temptations to quit this job I loved also began urgently squawking. By this time in my life, I’d decided I’d made enough If it feels good, do it mistakes to acknowledge my need for a Savior, Jesus Christ. I knew it would feel fabulous to sarcastically mention Liz’s mean spirit to even one coworker—and even more freeing to snarkily comment to all of them— but I would try to handle my hurt by God’s standards.

It took me months to do this. While in the process of giving my hurt to God, forgiving my boss, and habitually praying for Liz, I was still in bondage to my borderline hateful feelings. During those months, I went to work each morning with a heavy heart and strong desire to avoid her. At night I spat prayers at God. “God, you say to pray for our enemies, so I’m praying for Liz.” Period. Or, I prayed God would hurt her as badly as she’d hurt me. Funny thing, though, as I obeyed God’s rules about forgiving and praying for enemies, He somehow imbued me with compassion and love for her. My prayers became, “Oh Lord, I ask for your healing grace for Liz.” The morning I went to work with a glorious, beaming smile for this woman, I was truly free. Freedom didn’t come from If it feels good, do it. Freedom came from submitting to the wisdom of the God who created me and knows me best.

Cultural icons of the 1960s also touted the timeless truth “All you need is love.” What they didn’t tout was an overarching truth: Left to human devices, love is unattainable, especially if we do only what fickle feelings suggest. Questions of objective right and wrong are valid. I see now that situational ethics—and its bumper sticker—belong inside a bashed-in box with a lock that won’t open.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13
… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … Matthew 5:44


tandemingtroll said...

I love these two stories! Great job! However, I have to ask, did you ever see a change in your boss?
Even if you didn't, I suppose a "well done, good and faithful servant" is sufficient. :-D.

Jane Hoppe said...

Kris, I didn't see a heart change in her. Because God changed my heart, our relationship improved. I was an infant Christian at the time, too scared to speak directly with her about her slandering me. Or maybe wise, since the bible encourages us to confront in love, and I would have confronted in hate (not a good idea). :-)