Marriage On A Rudderless Boat

A recent article in The Atlantic talks about how shaming anti-maskers should stop and we should focus more on the failures of the system and less on outrage against individual risky behavior.

It ends with:

Lambasting people for their risky behavior may be effective in expressing frustration over a mismanaged pandemic, but it’s counterproductive to what really matters: reducing infections.

I’ve done way more than my share of shaming anti-maskers, but I have to shame myself now and agree with the article. Understanding and educating is what changes bad behaviors. Sure, there will always be a mean, shouty Karen at the checkout counter, and it is absolutely appropriate to shut down and shame that kind of ridiculous and aggressive stupidity. There should be no excuse and zero tolerance for violent behavior, but really those shouty Karens are only small viral-video exceptions while the majority of anti-maskers go about quietly spreading death in the background.

The system is always where you should focus, whether it be prevention of a deadly virus or fighting racism or ending terrorism. “Lambasting” people individually has a narrow and sometimes appropriate effectiveness, but focusing on changing the system that allows and encourages bad behavior is the bigger place where energy is better spent.

Why do people like anti-maskers have so little regard for their neighbor? Why do they reject sacrifice for the greater good? Why do some reject the rudders of their own religion and civic duty to drift around like human pollution in a beautiful moral sea?

Without a rudder of Church, without a rudder of State, ultimately without a core rudder of Maturity, Responsibility and Wisdom, the errant boats of selfishness have nothing to guide them. They have no meaning, no purpose. Shaming someone who has no connection to meaning is an exercise in futility, for there is nothing in them to shame. They are lost.

And loss of meaning is obviously a dangerous state to be in. It allows for all the bad things to take advantage: the post-truth circus acts, conspiracy theories, charlatans, cults, nationalism, genocide and other forms of mass death. Meaninglessness is desperation and any shiny false idol or evil monster will quickly jump in to easily fill that void with hate and aggression. Meaninglessness is a dire sociopath-loop that feeds the cancer of selfishness.

Focusing on the system though, the questions expand to the sources of how people get so lost. Why do some people lose their moral rudders in the first place and abandon the tenets of democracy and/or religion? How does meaninglessness just take over?

The answer to this circular and destructive dilemma is an age-old quest attempted by the many social systems already mentioned, especially the big two — Church and State.

However, I think the answer is easiest and best revealed by the lovely example of marriage.

Yes, marriage.

Now, I am not talking about marriage in a biblical sense or marriage as a end-all cure, but marriage as a comprehensive example of commitment of self to someone outside of self in order to transcend self — in a word, to become unselfish.

We always begin our relationship with the things that should hold the greatest meaning in our lives (religion, civics, marriage, politics, arts, etc.) with superficial infatuation and immature fanaticism, and if we do not transcend that childhood and adolescence of selfishness, that puppy love, to maturely commit and fully participate with them in harmony with others then they lose their meaning and deteriorate into obliviousness or weapons for bigotry and hate.

If you don’t use it properly, you lose it. And a rudder degraded into a weapon is no rudder at all. Misused and wasted potential is the perpetual death of cowards.

So any system that provides meaning not only needs maintenance, it demands expertise. If you don’t maintain it, it withers, and if you don’t improve your use of it, it also withers. There is no either/or. Meaning must be continually attended to and re-visited to flourish and bloom perennially, just like marriage. Practice does not make perfect, it just gets closer and closer to it.

Marriage is the letting go of selfishness to participate in life with another and achieving a beautiful, reoccurring form of enlightenment. It’s the one become two become one. To reiterate: this is a continuous and eternal cycle. The “two become one” goes right back around to becoming “two” again, and so on. It is a beautiful, progressive loop of enlightenment. It is Heaven.

That’s the greatness and simplicity of marriage. That’s the Hero’s Journey. That’s the higher love.

Any system loses meaning for those who do not participate anymore and thus the rudderless sink back into selfishness. It is a sad, lazy, angry, adrift state.

“Lambasting” the lost, the meaningless, only makes them double-down on their rudderless state, but putting out a hand to help pull them out of the pit of themselves and participate in life is just the Golden Rule in action, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.



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Jerry James

Jerry James

husband, father, RN, music lover, kindness fan