Monday, October 24, 2011

There are no absolutes (not even that one)

One of the most frustrating classes I took in college was media ethics. The name in itself almost seems to be an oxymoron. Consider this: I went to school at what could be considered one of the most conservative universities in the nation. It had a highly regarded Television program, and was fairly competitive. From those looking from afar, they might wonder why a school like BYU would spend so much time and money on a program designed to put people in the media workforce. My take on is that media in and of itself isn't bad, just like the internet or the printing press aren't bad. However, there are those that can, and do, use it for purposes that are less than noble. The goal from the school's point of view was to get people into the media that would use it for good.

In this media ethics class, we discussed all sorts of different situations and what we would do. For example, the question was brought up, "Would you publish, or announce, the name of someone who was raped?" My gut feeling was "no". This person had been through enough without having their name put out there for everyone to know. However, there were arguments for it. Granted, at this moment I don't recall what they were, because my answer would still be "no".

The teacher of the class was a master in the art of debating. He would ask a question to the class, expect people to voice their opinion, and then he would take on the other side and tear them to shreds. Hence, the reason it was very frustrating.

It didn't take long for me to pick up on one of his tricks. Whenever someone would state their opinion in the form of a generality, for example, "people should always wear seat belts", he would counter it with a specific, "I know of a friend who wasn't wearing a seat belt, and in an accident, he was thrown from the car. If he had his seatbelt on, he would have been crushed to death."

He would also do the opposite. If you stated your opinion as a specific, for example, "My wife got married when she was 19, and we've been happily married for 20 years", he would counter with a generality, "89% of women who get married at 19 end up divorced". (I'm just making up that stat—I have no idea what the actual number is, nor do I care)

So how do you argue with someone who has spent a good chunk of his life debating ethical issues? For me, the answer is you don't. In other words, I have strong core beliefs that guide my actions on a moment by moment basis. I've developed these beliefs over the course of my life. I try to keep an open mind about certain things and I go by the principle of "live and let live". If someone is going to try to convince me to change a core belief, they will have a difficult time doing so.

At the end of this media ethics class, the teacher said he wanted us to see that things were never black or white. There were all sorts of shades of gray in everything. His final statement was, "There are no absolutes"—to which I responded, "Not even that one?"


  1. Great post. Sounds like that would have been an interesting class. Some people are just born debaters. It makes me a little uncomfortable, though. I find I don't often share my opinions, at least not on hot-button issues.

  2. Interesting post Jason. In this day and age where "absolutes", such as those related to morality, it isn't surprising to hear professors, even at BYU unfortunately, state that their are no absolutes. Thank goodness for the Gospel which helps us to know better.