Monday, March 7, 2011

The Declaration of Independence.

Teaches a very important lesson about conflict. I don't mean of the international variety. I'm talking about one of the Declaration's most famous bits. Our Inalienable Rights: "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Okay, okay, so those rights belonged only to white males, and mostly to white, property-owning males at that, but we're making progress. Let's assume most of us enjoy these rights today.

The first thing I want to point out is that these rights are stated in order of importance. Then I want to point out that one of the most worthwhile philosophical pursuits you can consider is whether one person's rights trump another's. On some levels it's simple: your right to life does trump my right to happiness if my happiness involves driving my car too fast on the public roads. When we get more subtle, or more remote, we get into trouble. For instance, I recently bought an air compressor for my convenience. Not sure that counts as the pursuit of happiness, but let's file it there. Stating that it liberates me from going to the gas station to check my tire pressures is overstating the case. But how can I spend $200 on a convenience when somewhere a child is sick or hungry? I've trumped somebody's right to life somewhere, haven't I?

I have problems with happiness, as you can see.

Look at stories in the same way. My personal idiocies don't make for much of a story, but what if you wrote a love story with one partner thinking the relationship is the center of their life and the other thinking it's a "pursuit of happiness?" Or a drama, with one character willing to do anything it takes to live and the other not willing to sacrifice their freedom for simple survival?

Know your characters' values. Know their priorities. Know their frame of reference. Something might be very, very important to one person that means nothing to someone else.

Yours in air compressor hell,


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