A DECENT LIFE: MORALITY FOR THE REST OF US

📘 Book: A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us, by Todd May

How we can suck less, an answer:

I’d call this book a guide to moral daily action. Philosophy to live by.

This was soft morality. A kind guide to living and answering little questions in the back of our minds: what’s the best thing for me to do? How much do I owe others and the world? What does being good look like today? How might I approach it in a way that allows me to still function and do things I enjoy? In its own words, it seeks to answer: “What does non- extreme but significant morality look like?”

It’s a morality for people with a job, people with a family and people with problems. It’s bridges the morality of philosophers with the actions of day to day life in a way that cannot be excused for being too tiresome and consuming. I will warn that it does seem (to me at least), to escalate the requirements and the things that we do in order to be decent, but overall, I think it was a timely, modern, digestible and interesting take on what it’s like to try and be good.

🪄 Actionable takeaways:
  1. The easiest shortcut to acting in a moral way is to be decent: decency is the acknowledgement that other people are like us: that they have things to do, places to be, needs and worries. Living and acting with this in mind is to be decent.

  2. The aim is not that one maximises their benevolence, but that one must find some ways by which one might be benevolent: we can use the same principle every time we want to be better, smarter, healthier, nicer. Not every action has to be the best, we can just overall find ways to be good.

  3. (I agree with this view) Morality shouldn’t be overriding: other things should come into consideration when judging the morality of an action. For example, a mother hiding her runaway child. When judging a moral situation, we can have a willingness to accept that someone acting immorally in certain situations is compatible with a character deserving of admiration (and have the same generosity towards ourselves)

  4. What has only instrumental value doesn’t require of us that we treat it in any other way than a means to an end: money wouldn’t deserve the same moral considerations as us, it’s important to sometimes remember that some things have no inherent morality (or good or bad) which can sometimes be assumed.

  5. The stories we tell are of the things we value, so it’s important to really ‘hear’ what we are saying. The way we describe and phrase things can be such that we are consistently painting ourselves as a victim. Sometimes we would even refuse to accept that we see ourselves as such, but it’s the conclusion of our stories, and therefore, might be a subconscious belief. It’s interesting to examine what conclusions our ‘stories’ and what we say are really revealing about us.

  6. If we live in a culture where there are things that are acceptable and unacceptable to say to others, it must also then follow that we have things that are acceptable and unacceptable to say and admit to ourselves. The roots of self-repression are therefore social rather than individual.

  7. There are no limits to what morality can ask of us, but there are limits to what we can want to do. It’s not to be unworthy to draw a line. And there are more creative ways to be moral today. For example, if one loves to eat meat but doesn’t want to contribute to harming the environment, one can donate to charities that reduce or offset carbon emissions just enough (or a bit more) to make up for their spending from eating, travelling etc.

  8. People are consistently blamed for the social structures that oppress them: blaming people for not having a home when social structures create, contribute and sustain the problems surrounding the issue is common, but not acceptable.

  9. When we feel that having to do a good action feels extreme (being vegan, not travelling), we can ask ourselves what would a significant but non-extreme moral action be in this case? Smaller changes and action are better than none. Extremes are easy to dismiss.

  10. We should never stop seeking to improve ourselves in the ways that our politics and systems are set to be unjust (racism, classism, inequality).


🧝‍♀️ Fave Quotes:
There is no limits to what morality can ask of us
To be aware of death in a way that affects the arc of one’s life is to be human
Dignity and equality cannot tell us what to do, but they can guide us in our attempt to do it

📘 Book: A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us, by Todd May


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