I've been thinking about the tendency of discussions about lifestyle choices to turn radioactive. You know: homeschooling, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, eating organic, 'sustainable' living, stay-at-home moms, NFP vs. providentialism, marrying young, etc.
One reason discussions on these topics almost invariably become fraught is that they're highly personal, but I think the big issue lurking behind this is that when someone makes an argument that "homeschooling is good" or "there are lots of good reasons to homeschool" we invariably read it as, "everyone should homeschool, and if you don't you're a bad parent."
Now, this impression is not unfounded. You can certainly find advocates of all the above topics who believe that everyone should live the way they do. However, most advocates would not go that far. They might think that more people should emulate their choices, because those choices are very good, but they would, if pressed, acknowledge that doing otherwise can be the best thing in certain situations.
Nevertheless, people tend to make the jump from "X is good" to "You must do X" and respond accordingly. I wonder if perhaps part of the reason is that we're inverting the thought process "X is bad, therefore you should not do X". It does not follow that because we must not do any things that are wrong, we must do all things that are right, but the symmetry is appealing.
Rather, it seems to me there are three categories we should consider (though not all actions will fall in one of these three):
1) Things that are wrong -- you should not do these
2) Things that are good, but not obligatory
3) Things that are good and are obligatory
Now, obviously, even if we posit that some action or lifestyle falls into 2), there's a lot of room to argue about why it's good, whether it really is good, how good it is, when it might be useful as opposed to not, etc. But at least we're clear that it's not something belonging to category 3), as in something that's obligatory.
But wait a minute: if we're classifying these sorts of activities in category 2) as "good but not obligatory", doesn't that put us back right where we started? Aren't people who don't do some good thing less good than people who do?
Not if we think about it clearly. First off, just because something is a good, does not necessarily mean that it is good in all circumstances. Secondly, we often have to choose between goods, because we simply can't do everything.
So, on the side of those arguing for a good, it's probably wise to be aware of whether you're talking about something which is a good but non-obligatory thing, or a good and obligatory thing.
And for those who see or hear someone else arguing that something is good, keep in mind that even if they are right, and what they're arguing for is good, that that does not necessarily mean you are bad (or even less good) if you don't do likewise.
Worth a Thousand Words: Doge Leonardo Loredan
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