Perhaps the best way to explain morality and our actions is by asking the question how do you sleep? Morals are subjective. Personal morals might be influenced by some outside source like religion or what we call “politics,” but at the end of the day the only judgement you really have to live with is that from yourself. So again I ask—how do you sleep?
Personally, if I’m stressing about a decision I’ve made because of its moral ramifications, I will not be able to sleep. As I mentioned in an earlier post I was who you might consider one of those irresponsible spring breakers living it up at the clubs in Cancún in March as the coronavirus pandemic slowly and then rapidly broke out in the US and beyond. But let me tell you: the night before I left, I barely slept. Tossing and turning at the thought that I would get somebody sick or be perceived as a malicious and ignorant person kept me awake.
And yes, again, I did go. Because we all have limits for what we’ll just accept and get over or negotiate our morals, right? This is not to say “poor poor pitiful me, I couldn’t sleep the night before vacation.” It’s to say that I personally deal with a physical response when I compromise on my own morals. I’ve done things against my morals for friends or due to peer pressure, or because I simply told myself “it’s not that bad.” We all do. That’s human nature and it’s part of growth. Personal morals change over time.
Yet, frankly I see so many people and experience myself this endless anxiety over a new moral panic every week. Whether it’s a massive event like a pandemic or national protest or a viral Instagram challenge, we’re constantly faced with these things that become moral dilemmas while we decide whether or not to participate. Celebrities get caught up in this time and time again where they do a thing or share a thing without doing an hour of research and find themselves “canceled” or “called out” or “clapped back” because their good intentions were lost in translation.
Remember the ice bucket challenge? It was like a hundred years ago or something and thousands of people shared videos of themselves dumping ice water on their heads to “raise awareness” and money for ALS research. In one sense it was another stupid internet trend. In a more important sense, it raised millions of dollars for ALS research, which even led to a breakthrough in the fight against the disease.
You will not find a video of me participating in the ice bucket challenge in the archives of the internet. Am I pro-ALS? No. IF I even was officially “challenged” at the time I didn’t feel like I had the means to make a donation, so I simply didn’t participate in the self-serving part of the challenge (sharing a video of myself for likes). The point is while I understood the fun and importance of raising awareness through this medium, by the time it was “my turn” to participate, I wasn’t adding anything. Everyone I would reach with my platform was more than likely already aware of the disease and/or the challenge.
Did I lose sleep over my lack of participation? Not really. I did weigh the moral implications of how I would feel if I made a video and didn’t donate. While morally, I supported and believed in the importance of the cause, I was able to sleep tight knowing there were plenty of other people doing the work who could do it better than me.
Whenever you’re faced with a moral challenge such as: do I join this protest? Do I speak in support of this issue? Do I take part in this social media challenge? Ask yourself: how will you sleep? I haven’t joined a protest since ever, frankly. One time I went to a DACA protest but I left to have a panic attack in Central Park instead of marching. But Kamaron, don’t you harp on action and being real and standing up for what’s right? Yes! But I know my limits and my place and it is not the streets. How do I sleep knowing my friends, my peers, people I don’t know are out in the streets taking bullets, tear gas, and beatings for me and my rights? I find my place to support. I give money. I write. I share information. I talk to people, try to educate where I can. Those are some of my places.
In recent years as it appears the general population has become more and more politically (I use that word loosely) engaged, I keep seeing the phrase “silence is violence” as well as that Desmond Tutu quote about being neutral in the face of oppression. Most recently, I’ve found myself brimming with rage at the silence of some of my peers when it has come to such issues as whether or not Black people deserve rights among plenty of other atrocities. At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of people “speak out” on issues by way of posting a black square or cute graphic saying “racism is bad” with little or no other visible work being done for the cause.
Do you all have a “moral obligation” to do something? Well, what are your morals? How do you sleep at night knowing there are thousands of kids sleeping on floors in cages? How do you sleep at night knowing the president is sending rogue militia to kidnap people off the street? How do you sleep at night knowing people will be homeless due to an ongoing pandemic? How do you sleep at night knowing people will die from this pandemic not from the illness outright, but because they couldn’t afford treatment? How do you sleep at night knowing people in this country have been dying every day for years simply because they can’t afford simple medical treatment?
There is too much work to be done for any of us to be sleeping at night, yes. But my point is are you doing enough to feel like you are contributing something for the sake of your own beliefs? No I don’t lose sleep over the fact that I didn’t solve homelessness today, but I might sleep better knowing I engaged with someone on the street today or even helped support them financially today.
But Kamaron, isn’t it performative to do things just to make yourself feel better? Well dear reader, let me ask you this: what makes you feel good? Nothing makes me feel better, frankly, than justice and seeing people if only for a moment get a little bit better. So when I do things for what I believe are the greater good, I feel good. Sometimes I need more time to understand what I believe, but when I form an opinion, I usually share it one way or another. And if it’s something I’m willing to fight for, you bet I’m finding a way to fight for it.
Some people can’t say the same. Or they say they believe something but their actions to support that statement are few or nonexistent. To those people, I ask: how do you sleep? And I know some of them have trouble sleeping because they get back on social media after they’ve been called out to try to defend themselves. I mean it’s one thing when they just get something wrong and they come back and say “I messed up.” I’m talking about the defenders who “do a thing” and after some backlash come back to say they “stand by” that thing “but some parts should have been thought through more” and they’re “listening and learning.” All that apologetic poetry that just says: “this was stupid and I thought it was cute.”
Remember the “Imagine” video? Something like 17 years ago Wonder Woman herself Gal Gadot led a bunch of celebrities in creating a montage of them poorly singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” in an effort to cheer up the world engulfed in a pandemic. It did not go over well for several reasons, but as with plenty of things I think the backlash was a bit excessive. However, had each celebrity that participated done something meaningful to accompany this dumb gratuitious bit, no one would have made fun of their impeccable inability to keep a tune to one of the most recognizable songs in the world.
People scoffed and memed and mocked because all these celebrities filmed themselves in their million dollar mansions pretending that it was hard for them to “be in lockdown” too. Meanwhile, hospital staffers used garbage bags for protection and millions of people filed for unemployment. What Gal Gadot and company did was not harmful or even wrong in my view, but it just begs the question: how do you sleep? If you’re a multi-million dollar earning entertainer who uses their platform to speak about how you want people to have better conditions, you want people to feel better, you want things to get better—it would occur to me that you could use your endless supply of resources to do something meaningful towards those goals. Tell me you didn’t think singing Imagine was the best you thought you could do—how would you sleep?
And maybe they all sleep just fine, because again—it’s personal. And it can be private. There is also not a ton of good in announcing every time you do a good thing, but that’s my point. If you are able to go to sleep every night assuring yourself you helped make the world a better place today, then sweet dreams. But if you’re not sleeping well, maybe there’s a reason.