Ask any millennial what is their stand on a certain subject, (your pick- same sex marriage, abortion, politics, leadership, friendship, family, morality……………… feel free to add some more) and most times their answer will be—- “it depends”. If you’re lucky of course; if you are not so lucky, especially with the much younger generation you will get a ‘whatever’ or ‘I don’t care’.
This is the era of relativism.
Relativism is generally termed as ‘ the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute’
While at it, ask your parent or grandparent about their stand on some issues; and they will have a firm stand: ‘Abortion is wrong’, ‘you should not marry someone from a different race’ etc.
While there is a lot associated with the difference of opinions from these two generations such as exposure, liberalism, education, cultural changes, there is some inclination of the older generations having absolute stands on some issues.
I realized this when a friend who we discuss various issues with asked me; “why are you so evasive about certain topics”? Evasive? I don’t think I am evasive, I just don’t have absolutes on everything, for me everything is relative. Here is why: who decides what’s right or wrong? Is it the culture, law, religion? Who does?
Maybe there was a time when people depended on religion only for guidance. For example, for Christians, during the biblical era, teachings by anointed leaders were the moral staff. Or in the African culture, before Christianity, whatever was acceptable culturally was used as the moral staff.
Now on the other hand, we have all kinds of influences in our lives. We have religion, African tradition, western culture, education, science and law which all differ on definition of what is right or wrong on very different wavelengths. So when you ask, is abortion wrong? I will answer, ‘it depends’. Are you talking from a medical, cultural, religious, cultural point of view?
Relativism makes a lot of sense. It makes us make everything circumstantial which is a more practical way of putting things. For example, one will ask, was Muammar Gaddafi a good leader or a bad leader? It depends, from where you are viewing it from. If your family member was detained because he opposed the leader, he is a bad leader (or if you are a capitalist). If he made it possible for your family to have a home, and puts other African leaders to shame, he was a great leader. Sometimes our countries call for some form of dictatorship.
I am passionate about the topic of leadership (not politics, please note the difference) and I am convince there is no right or wrong leader. The best leader is a situational leader. Contingency theory of leadership stipulates that the best leader is one that leads according to the situation. Meaning that looking at the situation at hand, the leader may be dictatorial, democratic, transformational, or even not intervene at all. Isn’t this relativism?
I think relativism is good for the society and even better for us as individuals. Relativism saves us from psychological disturbance. According to Albert Ellis, emotional disturbance and irrational thoughts develop from us thinking in absolute tones such as must, should, ought to, have to; hence developing negative emotions such as worry, anger, frustrations anxiety. Refusing to take these absolutes therefore make us have rational thoughts since we replace must, should with like to, prefer etc. for example, I’d say, I would very much like to score that new client, as opposed to ‘I must score that new client’. Should I lose, the emotional disturbance will be much less if I had not placed an absolute expectation on myself.
Relativism also spreads to the circle of control vs the circle of concern.
It makes us not concern ourselves with things that are not within our control. Research shows you are happier and more satisfied if you keep your circle of concern small and circle of control large. This may sound evasive or even unconcern, but why concern yourself with something you cannot change? Say I take a stand about abortion: Abortion is wrong and must never take place. So what do I feel about all the abortions that are taking place whether in dark alleys or the best of hospitals? This will bother me and it is not within my control.
This relativism era? I love it! I am it and I am preaching it.
On the other hand, here is something to ponder on, why isn’t this generation happier?