Stephen Measure

On Perspective
July 10, 2014

The world is burning down. It certainly feels that way to those of us who oppose same-sex marriage and continue to insist that same-sex sex is morally wrong despite the emotional appeals and social pressure exerted on its behalf. Yes, it's easy to feel despair as we watch institutions and standards crumble around us, yet history suggests we should not let that feeling linger. Waves rise but then fall. What seems unstoppable today is discarded and forgotten tomorrow. Every Goliath will meet a David; every Titanic will strike an iceberg; every behemoth will become a fossil; and every judicial ruling in favor of same-sex marriage will one day be considered as illegitimate as Dred Scott.

Still, it certainly is an interesting time, when MTV and Rolling Stone parrot the establishment, and those whose morals are attached to something more permanent than transient whim find themselves as the underdog counterculture. Isn't it strange? Rock music in all its varieties, once the anthem of rebels, has faded into elevator music for the trend-following horde.

But strange or not, our times can be distressing. Especially if we view the societal changes as irreversible, meaning that things will never get better. A related message is shared on the Discussing Marriage website in their "The Objection from Bandwagon" article and video. They point out that, while those in favor of same-sex marriage prefer to compare their cause to the civil rights movement, a better comparison can be made with the abortion debate, where opinion has shifted over time, proving that change in opinion is not irreversible. This comparison is especially appropriate when you step away from the same-sex marriage debate and instead focus solely on the matter of same-sex sex. Like abortion, same-sex sex is an action. And just like abortion, some people think this action is morally wrong while others disagree.

As the example of the abortion debate shows, popular sentiment doesn't move in only one direction, and it doesn't always move away from fixed moral standards. Thoughts can change as ideas that were never allowed to be honestly considered are given their due weight. So it is that I have to assume the world will at some point open its eyes and realize how ridiculous the idea of sexual identity is, an epiphany that will have a profound impact on the state of the debate about same-sex marriage as well as same-sex sex.

We who have been raised in a generation with a stigma against same-sex sex assume that if we only desire normal sex, it is due to something about us rather than something about our generation. We refuse to acknowledge that the removal of the stigma against same-sex sex will inevitably result in an increase in its desirability. Think about it. If you are not currently attracted to same-sex sex, ask yourself: Why not? Do you find it gross or disgusting? Do you consider it unmanly (or unwomanly)? And that opinion came from where?

If you don't consider same-sex sex wrong, then perhaps you don't care. But if, like me, you consider same-sex sex to be morally wrong, then open your eyes and realize that you are a product of your generation and that those being raised today are also products of their generation. Consider what that means. The stigma against same-sex sex is going away. There is little you can do about that. But what you can do is to stop identifying people based on their sexual attractions. What you can do is to realize that people are only men and women, not gay or straight, and to always treat them as such.

I have to assume that at some point the world will finally get this, that it will realize that sexual identity, sexual orientation, sexual whatever-you-want-to-call-it, does not accurately reflect reality. I have to assume that, once that happens, things will improve as people realize that considering same-sex sex to be morally wrong is no less valid than considering it to be morally right. The activists can yell all they want, but the square peg of behavior will never fit into the round hole of racism. Sooner or later, I have to assume the world will understand.

But what if the world never does? What if things only continue to grow worse? We've all seen the scalp collectors roaming throughout society in search of those of us who refuse to conform. What if their numbers only grow larger and their actions bolder? What if your friends all desert you, and the walls close in tighter, and the darkness grows deeper, all reason having fled, foolishness left alone to reign triumphant?

To that I say: So what? Stop being melodramatic. Get up on your feet and go do something useful.

Perspective is key. Why is it that a person can have such a drastically different attitude from another in the exact same circumstances? Why is it that the first is able to accomplish so much more than the second? Why is it that they're more positive, more happy, and more pleasant to associate with? It's their perspective.

We often hear this narrowed down to the simple "glass half full" or "glass half empty" comparison, which focuses solely on optimism or pessimism. It's good to be optimistic. It's good, instead of focusing on the shadow, to focus on the light shining behind it. But what if there is no discernible light? What if things really are as horrible as they seem? At times like this, the power of optimism loses its strength. For this reason I suggest, rather than trying to have an optimistic perspective, we should try to have a useful one.

Does your current perspective provide a route for you to accomplish something useful, or does it cause you to shut yourself off, to wallow in anger, bitterness, or despair? Perhaps the feelings are justified, but so what? Your time is finite. Do you want to waste even one day, even one afternoon? No. You're still breathing—go do something useful.

Why, you might ask. Depression and despair come naturally, do they not? Why bother fighting against what comes easiest? I have three reasons for you. Time is the first. As I already said, your time is finite. Picture a clock ticking away above your head. However you spend the next moment of your life, it will be spent. A coffin awaits you, just as it awaits me, just as it awaits everyone with blood flowing in their veins. Does that depress you? Why should it? You're still breathing. Your time is ticking down. The next moment of your life will pass one way or the other. Justified emotions or not, do you want to waste that moment in darkness, or do you want to change the way you think about things? You can sit and mope, or you can do something useful. What will you do?

Goals are the second. What do you wish to achieve? And, in order to achieve that goal, don't you have to struggle against someone or against something? Life is conflict, and psychological warfare is often part of that conflict. Sports competitors get inside each other's heads, politicians work hard to depress the opposition's turnout, armies use tactics that terrorize their enemies into submission. After all, what easier way is there to win than to convince your opponents to give up? Are you allowing your perspective to be negatively manipulated? Does the way you are looking at your situation cause you to stop trying? Why? You're still breathing. Your coffin is yet empty. Why are you giving up? Change your perspective. Stand up and do something useful.

I promised three reasons, but I've only offered two. The third I save for later. For now, I'd like to discuss how we can improve our perspective. If it is natural to feel despair when despair is natural, how can we shift our view to see things in a more productive way? Once again, I have three answers for you.

Comparison is the first. When times are hard, it often seems pitch black. As Harry S. Truman said (and Ronald Reagan later paraphrased), “It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours.” Bad things that happen to us always seem worse than anything that is happening or has happened to others. But are things really that bad for those who oppose same-sex marriage? Of course not. Social ostracism, thoughtless smears, even spectacular flares of fiery Internet rage, what are any of those pains compared to real physical harm or loss of liberty? Things really aren't that bad, not in comparison. Compare your plight to the experience of Michael Keeler, a Proposition 8 donor whose family is subjected to a lethal threat in "The Unneeded Panic Room". That story is fiction. Hopefully it will remain that way.

Of course, knowing that others have had it much worse is of little comfort when you find yourself or your views mistreated, but by comparing our situation rationally, we can often discover that the shadow we thought covered our entire world is really not so dark after all, and this realization can allow us to discover ways to think about our situation that do not trap us in useless despair or bitterness.

Comparison is helpful, but it is nothing compared to the negative-perspective-shattering power of gratitude. A 19th-century leader of my church (I'm a Mormon) named Brigham Young said the following about gratitude and its absence: "I do not know of any, excepting the unpardonable sin, that is greater than the sin of ingratitude." Whether you are Mormon or not, I am confident you can see the wisdom in that teaching. Of what worth are blessings if we are unwilling or unable to recognize them? Gratitude is a powerful attribute, capable of quickly transforming a negative perspective into a useful one. Consider a man returning home from a hard day at work. Are his thoughts on the troubles and anxieties of his day? Does he feel sorry for himself? As he passes the homes of his neighbors, does he feel jealous of what they have and he lacks? Or does his mind turn to gratitude? Does he feel grateful for the job that he has, for the ability to provide for his family? Does he feel grateful for the blessing of his car? We drive miles every day and then gripe about it, not recognizing the amazing gift of transportation and the freedom it gives us. Does he think of his family? What is a job, what is a car, what is a hard day at work compared to a family? Your coffin awaits you. What will you leave behind? Does the man realize this truth as he pulls into his garage and enters his home?

Now consider the different perspective the grateful man would have versus the ungrateful man. Consider the different actions that would come as a result of those perspectives. Both the grateful man and the ungrateful man experienced the exact same day, yet which will have a more productive night? Which will have the ability to fulfill his primary stewardships? It's not about having an easier life. It's about making the choice to be grateful and allowing that gratitude to alter your perspective into a useful one.

I still have a third answer to give, both to the why as well as the how. But first I want to talk about my poem "Why Do You Build What You Know Will Fall?" The title is deceptive. Perhaps you think I'm preaching against wasted effort. Perhaps you think I'm telling you to prioritize and to avoid spending time on things you know will not last. But if so, you don't understand what I'm trying to say. Read Ecclesiastes. Read it again and again until you are thoroughly depressed at the long-term worth of your individual effort. Everything you say will fall apart. Everything you build will crumble to dust. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. Now read 1 Corinthians 13. There you will find the meaning that drives my poem. There you will find the two missing answers from this post. That chapter provides the why, and it also provides the how. We have a duty to do good, yes; but more than that, we are meant to want to do good. We are meant to desire it above all else. What manner of men and women should we be? Ones who require no reward because, with who we have become, the work itself is the reward. That is why we should keep a useful perspective, and that is also how.

So, yes, the world might be burning down, but do not waste your time or energy in despair. Your clock is ticking. Do not give up. Things are never as bad as they seem, and you have been blessed more than you realize. Your time is limited. Make the most of it. Become the person you were meant to be. Help those around you. Strengthen the weak, the lost, the confused. Lift society as high as your strength permits, no—lift it higher. Keep a useful perspective. Why would you not? Perspective is key. Always keep a useful one.

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