This week, I attended a reading by Christopher Phillips. He is the author of Socrates' Caf?: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, and has been described as the "Johnny Appleseed of philosophy" because of his penchant for starting meaningful dialogues with groups around the world.
He was in town to promote his newest book, Six Questions for Socrates: A Modern-Day Journey of Discovery Through World Philosophy. Because I happen to live in Portland, Oregon, a city with a reputation for contemplative people who tend to be voracious readers (must be the rain), the room at Powell's Books was packed. After reading a few pages from his book describing a typical Socratic dialogue, Phillips asked us to consider the question, "What is virtue?" and to think about how it might relate to our world today.
Well, "today" happened to be the day that President Bush announced his intention to push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. It was clearly a hot topic in the room, and the first speaker jumped right in by asking if perhaps we could become a more virtuous society by respecting and supporting a "multiplicity of choices" regarding any loving relationship between two consenting adults.
The hour passed swiftly as many individuals contributed to the discussion of tolerance, support, acceptance, common good, well being, and the development of our culture.
No matter what you believe about gay marriage, considering its implications is a fascinating process in evaluating and defining our own sense of virtue.
When I was four, my father announced to my mother that he was homosexual. My mother had been raised in the Mormon church, the only child of two very conservative parents. She told me years later that she'd had to look up the word in the dictionary to know what he was talking about. It was 1964.
She chose to pack up my two brothers and me and head to Oregon to live with her parents. I grew up hearing from my grandmother that my father was "evil" and that someday I'd learn about the horrible things he'd done.
I envisioned him as an axe murderer. I didn't see him for years.
I now have a very friendly relationship with him, and I am pleased to report that he has never killed anyone. In fact, he leads a quiet, happy life of gardening, paying bills, helping others in his community, and being completely dedicated to his partner.
They've been together for over 40 years--about 28 years longer than he was married to my mother. I don't know any couple that has been able to withstand more challenges while remaining absolutely devoted to supporting each other than my father and his partner.
With lasting love being so hard to find, I think we ought to support and celebrate it whenever possible.
Can we legislate love? Is there ever a good reason for society to put limits on a loving relationship between two consenting adults? What responsibility do we have as citizens to support caring, long-term relationships? How will our culture be affected by our choice to support or limit partnerships between two individuals who choose to sustain each other throughout their lives?
Just as important as these questions are those related to the time, expense and divisive discussion required to alter our nation's official stance on this issue. I fail to understand how anyone can decide to focus such enormous resources on clarifying personal relationships at a national level when there are clearly so many more pressing problems that demand attention.
I'd like to see less focus on legislating loving partnerships, and a lot more on preventing truly heinous acts.
Like, say, axe murder. Or maybe war.
With mouths to feed, children to educate, jobs to create, and communities to support, the discussion surrounding gay marriage is pointedly political and decidedly distracting. I don't know what Socrates would have said about this issue, but my guess is that he'd enjoy the debate. It's likely that he would argue to allow individuals to thoughtfully pursue their personal quest for excellence and enjoy the same benefits granted to every other adult member of the community.
As our society continues in its welcome development of a more evolved sense of ethics, we can rise to the challenge. As individuals, we can dedicate ourselves to continuing this thoughtful debate in our communities, our homes, and within ourselves to foster enlightened decision-making at local (state) levels.
I'm hoping for careful consideration, honesty, full disclosure, and a willingness to accept the risks required to expand our thinking. My father had the guts to pursue his own sense of excellence in 1964 and, despite years of personal anguish, was successful in opening the minds of everyone in my family. I hope our nation's leaders will be as courageous--and more importantly, as compassionate--in their approach.
About The Author
Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse. Her work has inspired thinkers in over 80 countries. She serves up a satisfying blend of clarity, comfort and comic relief in her free weekly ezine, the Friday Mind Massage. To subscribe, visit http://www.massageyourmind.com.