The nature of my current WIP has me thinking about the nature of morality. However varied people’s moral stances may be, most of us have one, bordered by the lines we believe we would not cross. Some of those lines seem absolute, like the belief, say, that we wouldn’t – couldn’t – kill someone. We take wedding vows believing wholeheartedly that breaking them would be crossing the line. Some areas of the line are a bit more fuzzy: maybe we’ll tell a little white lie to spare someone’s feelings, but “real” lies leap over to the wrong side.
But the thing about the lines we wouldn’t cross is that we always seem to imagine them as lines in the sand. Been to a beach lately? The tide comes in and washes away lines just as well as it does castles, the wind shifts and blows dry sand around, and, sometimes, we smooth over our own efforts with a sand-covered foot and start all over again. Lines are as easily erased as created, in sand and in life.
How many men conscripted to the trenches of WWI – or any other war – would have said they could kill when they were home with their families going to school every day? How many parents ever believed they could shoplift before their children’s hunger pushed them to do it? And how many people grew up, fell in love, and got married believing they’d ever be able to have an affair? That last one is important in my WIP, which is what got me thinking about the changeable nature of certain so-called absolutes in the first place.
It seems to me that the impermanent nature of lines in the sand isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We change, our beliefs in what’s right and wrong shifts, even if only slightly, with changes in our circumstances, age, and wisdom. But it has me wondering: is there anything unchangingly absolute, black-and-white and permanent in us? Is there anything we wouldn’t do, given sufficient motivation? I don’t know. But I do know the questions have given my main character a whole lot to think about. And that makes for a great writing day.