The Doctrine of Moral Inferiority (Updated)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of Brandon Q. White and him alone. They do not reflect the views of his employer, or any professional or legal organization with which he is affiliated.
What’s up fam, I hope all is well.
I want to talk about a very serious relationship topic what I am tentatively calling the doctrine of moral inferiority. This idea was inspired by conversations I have had with Black women but I believe the principles transcend gender and culture. I am going to explain the doctrine, how I think it works in practice, and conclude with a special note for my sisters.
Moral inferiority – The state of being where you and/or your partner know that you are
1) More than likely will be the person to make a major mistake leading to a break up. (lying, cheating, disrespectful, inattentive, etc.)
2) More likely to have weaker relationship management skills to work through rough patches. (communication, transparency, desire to see that both parties grow).
Moral Superiority – The state of being where you and/or your partner know that you are
1) More than likely, will not be the one to make a major mistake leading to a break up (lying, cheating, disrespectful, inattentive, etc.)
2) More likely to have better relationship management skills to work through rough patches (communication, transparency, desire to see that both parties grow, etc.).
3) You don’t use your moral superiority as a bludgeon to devalue your partner.
Moral Superiority & Inferiority
I am using the term moral but I am not talking about morals in the strict sense but I am referring to the character that is required for a productive relationship. Moreover, each idea is relative to the partner you are with. There have been times I have been morally superior and there are times that I have been morally inferior. The relativity of these ideas suggests that you shouldn’t think of yourself as one or the other in absolute terms. The roles are also fluid such that you may ebb and flow between moral and superiority based on the specific circumstances within your relationship. However, I will encourage you to appreciate these differences because a lot of what I have and will discuss is often located beneath the surface of the relationship but rarely is dealt with on its own terms. This is merely a new way of examining and improving our intimate relationships.
Moral Superiority does not mean that you are perfect nor does it mean that you are better than your partner. What it does mean is that you are better at managing the ebbs and flows of a relationship. It is tantamount to saying I am physically superior to my wife because I can lift more weights than her. That doesn’t make me a better person; it just means I can lift more weights than her. In the same respect, being better at managing a relationship does not negate any other character defects and should not be taken as such.
Moral inferiority does not mean you are less valuable than your partner. But let’s keep it funky. How many of us have been in relationships where we felt that we needed to eat some Relationship Wheaties because you knew you had to be a better person to make the relationship work? If you ever felt that way, then it is probably an outgrowth of a feeling of moral inferiority.
Mind v. Reality
So how does this operate in our mind? I think in our minds, we would ideally all want to be and be with morally superior people. Whether we are encouraging ourselves or our partners to be better, I think there is a general tendency to move toward this ideal.
Despite the ideal, in real life it generally takes time for moral inferiority/superiority traits to become clear in you and your partner. Of course, early in the relationship when things can’t seem to go wrong, there is no real opportunity to see someone’s true relationship skills. Usually, a major mistake or the repeating of a hurtful act begins the process of delineating who is morally inferior and morally superior. This speaks to who tends to make the bulk of the mistakes, which of you does the bulk of relationship work, etc.
You: morally superior/Partner: morally inferior or morally superior
I think it is easier to be in relationships where you are morally superior, regardless of whether your partner is. What does this mean? When both people are morally superior, that seems to be the ideal that many if not most people would seem to want.
However when you are morally superior and your partner is not, you now in a privileged position to set the bulk of the terms by which the partner will oblige if they want to stay in your good graces. Your partner will often tacitly concede such power as a sign how they view themselves in the relationship and their way of making peace with the situation.
You: morally inferior Partner: morally superior
This arrangement can work for good or for bad. I say that it can be for good because even if things don’t work out between these two, you can probably learn some helpful tips about managing your next relationship. It can similarly work out bad where you begin to believe that you are the less important partner in the relationship.
I think the clearest example of moral/superiority/inferiority is in the context of second chance relationships. People break up for all types of reasons but more often than not, I think it boils down to one person being no longer willing to endure the pain and suffering due to the acts/words of their partner.
Let’s take Jane and John. Jane and John are both 32 and have been in a relationship for 5 years and have gone through a lot of ups and downs. Let’s assume that both John and Jane were morally superior throughout the bulk of the relationship. But John’s moral inferiority surfaced because he generally disregarded Jane’s desires, like wanting to take a trip to South Africa since she was a kid. (I am using a crude example on purpose, please reread based on your experiences)
Jane then breaks up with John because she felt John was subtly becoming more insensitive to her needs and the South Africa trip crystallized this pain for her. Soon after the relationship comes to an end, John realizes that he was grossly insensitive to Jane’s needs and he comes to grips with his moral inferiority. John and Jane don’t cut off each other for good and John really wants Jane back. Jane was really hurt about the trip and John pleads that he will be more sensitive and makes the necessary preparations for the South Africa trip. Jane admires John’s willingness to change and accepts him back in her life.
On their second go-round, Jane knows that her ability to shape the contours of the relationship will be greatly enhanced because of her moral superiority relative to John’s. John may have other serious issues but for Jane,
1) He’s not that bad of a guy. (Women, you know how you stick up for your man)
2) She has a general sense of what he is and is not capable of regarding how he hurt her
3) She doesn’t really have to do any self-analysis because John is so desperate to have her back, she knows that her presence alone will suffice.
4) Does John’s planning of a trip is proof that John’s insensitivity is cured, despite the fact she took him back during a time where he was willing to do anything to honor her desires.
And therein lies the problem for me because what if during their break up, Jane met someone, let’s call him Dan, who was morally superior that truly made her happy? I think many women, unfortunately will go with John because being with Dan means
1) Jane would be forced to deal with her own shortcomings in relationships because the focus is not on what somebody else did.
2) Jane having to overcome her fear of new emotional pain from Dan, even if John’s pain feels like surgery and Dan’s pain feels like getting a shot.
3) Jane risking that she may have to start a whole new relationship with Dan to experience the love she always thought impossible.
Try it at home
Take a moment to think about your relationships. Can you think of times when you were morally superior/inferior? What kind of person do you tend to be in a relationship? What type of people do you attract? When are you most happy? I think that the following traits while not exhaustive, explain the types of qualities that help you understand how moral superiority/inferiority plays out in your relationship. These traits include consistency, transparency, follow-through, integrity, etc.
Many, but not all sisters exclusively date Black men and unfortunately, there are many brothers that are morally inferior, regardless of their age, status, income, etc. From my perspective, inferiority is the way to go if you want to lock down a great Black woman. Why do I say that? I say that because far too many sisters will open and reopen the doors of their heart to inferior brothers who don’t treat them like the queens that they are while shutting the door to brothers that do. I didn’t realize this before but I guess a woman has to admit and believe that she has a morally inferior man before she can even make the necessary changes. Certainly, no one can tell her this and she can’t admit it to other people but she knows the truth in the pit of her soul. But even if she knows, she has to allow her actions to manifest this knowledge, which rarely happens because that would be emotionally inconsistent. ***”I know I shouldn’t be with him but I want to be with him so I can’t allow my actions get in the way of what I want.”***
One manifestation of not allowing your actions to get in the way is located in Proverbs 15:22 which says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” There is something very revealing in this scripture regardless of your religious persuasion and the principle is universal but pertinent in the Sisters section. There are really two types of advice we allow for the people we love. The first invitation is based on Proverbs 15:22 and it involves asking people that love and care about you what they think about a given situation before you have reached the ultimate resolution of the question. Regardless of how much you can probably assume what they are going to say, you bring it up anyway just as a safeguard to appreciate and fine tune your own analysis. The other invitation starts from telling your loved ones the conclusion you have reached. In this case, the analysis is somewhat important but the firmer the conclusion, the less need to examine how we got here. ***The goal of conclusion based advice is to keep your loved ones reasonably informed about what is happening in your life but the more tacit and I submit cynical goal is to let your loved ones know that their advice is really about managing the adjustments that need to be made to accommodate your conclusion.***
When your loved ones know they are being asked for conclusion-based advice, the typical response from them will be, “Hey, I got your back, whatever you need, I’m here,” and sometimes we short shrift ourselves when that is all we want to hear. And if we really keep it funky, aren’t we all more inclined “figure out things on our own” if we suspect our loved ones will frown on our analysis? Therefore, the conversations that really need to be Proverbs 15:22 based get downgraded to conclusion based advice. To be sure, I do think there is a place for conclusion-based advice but not when it is summarily avoided when you are talking about someone you know you shouldn’t be with.
For example, a Proverbs 15:22 conversation would start from the premise of, “I am thinking about getting deeper with this guy, what do you think”can get warped into a conclusion based conversation of “I decided to go deeper with him but there are some sub issues we still have to work on that I wanted to talk to you about.” Do you notice the difference? I submit to you that it is probably the case that when we are dealing with someone who is really good for us, we look forward to having Proverbs 15:22 conversations. On the flip side though, when we are dealing with someone who is not good for us, we will often revert to conclusion-based advice. This does not mean that you need approval from your loved ones to make decisions. However, it does mean that you should not use your loved ones to merely rubber stamp your conclusions. Just think about the potential fall out that stems from a wrong conclusion based on a flawed analysis including divorce, emotional abuse, etc. and weigh the opinions who you will need to rely on if and when that happens. Why make the choice to be penny-wise and pound foolish? So let me ask you ladies, are you dealing with someone that encourages you to seek Proverbs 15:22 advice or conclusion-based advice? ***To put it another way, are you ashamed to bring your guy around your loved ones and if so, doesn’t that feeling confirm the lack of confidence you have in your relationship?***
And if you are in this space and expect your confidence to grow, have you truly counted the costs of building confidence where there already exists a significant deficit of trust that this man can and will love you the way you deserve? Just think about the bare minimum expectations that accompany people you bring around your loved ones including but not limited to: this person is genuinely concerned with my best interests, I am willing to build a future with this person, they are good people, and they will not increase the negative drama in my life. So if you are with someone that you do not want to bring around your loved ones, just think about what is really being said when you don’t have the confidence to check off the bare minimum expectations. That is scary because if you want to love and make things work with a man that can’t meet those minimum expectations, I fear that you are in a place that is far more destructive than you might appreciate.
(To be sure, you can be as equally ashamed of someone who is accomplished in life as someone who is is a starving artist because I am referring to shame relative to their ability to truly love you, not their socioeconomic status.)
Breakups in name only
So what ends up happening is that inferior brothers get after pass to re-enter women’s lives only to wreak more havoc and the guy knows that there is so much bad in their relationship that the woman has a vested interest in keeping up appearances and doggedly protecting the reputation of the relationship. As a result, break ups are explained as innocent misunderstandings, emotional abuse is often compared to a mountain of goodness, and any other major shortcomings just need time.
Therefore, what is usually known as a break up is watered down to a pause in between getting back together, like when you put your computer to sleep. The sleep function is used to save the computer’s battery, in this case the relationship. And just like in real life, you can click any button on the keyboard and voila, the relationship is back to full power, right where you left off.
The inferior guy never really leaves; he just fades in the background. During the pause, there may be good faith efforts by sisters to start anew including dating new people, increasing their spiritual walk, or even seeking therapy. So what happens when these efforts fail to wipe the slate clean? A better question is what happens when you do subconsciously expect or want your good faith efforts to fail? The desire to fail is really heavy because deep down, women know that if they truly wanted to be free from a past relationship, they would necessarily be alone in the most profound sense of the word.
Therefore the failure to be free is often construed to justify the desire to try it again, expecting or hoping different results. And while the relationship was in sleep mode, you convinced yourself that this is your “alone” time but you knew he was just a click away so what is the utility of good faith efforts when you never confront the fear of being alone? Someone told me that if you can’t be happy alone you can’t be happy with another person. Sisters, many of you may be single, but you are not alone because your mind and heart are willfully caught up with a man that you convinced yourself that you just can’t shake when in reality, you don’t want to shake him. When you start from a place of what you cannot do, the mediocrity that falls under that starts to look really reasonable. What’s worse is the notion that you can’t let him go is really governed by a fear of being alone more than it is governed by true love. Unfortunately, some women will go to great lengths to use love as their explanation for going back and will contort their mind to avoid the issue of their own grave fear of loneliness or not having someone to love them.
And it doesn’t help when you are with a man who wants you to be in his life more than he wants you to have a truly fulfilled life that could be separate from him. Some women would respond by saying that the fear of being lonely is a reasonable justification for choosing to go back to someone. Others would say women should expect only so much from a man so if he is willing to be with you or marry you, just suck it up. I suppose the best way to summarize a critique of what I said would be to claim, “love is messy.”
Love is messy
I really hate this notion that love is messy. I readily concede that love can be very complicated and at times defy logic. However, the context in which “love is messy,” is used often suggests that it is used to justify mediocrity. I submit to you that many of the relationships where people use this phrase should really be described as emotionally dysfunctional. I also think that describing love as messy is the easiest way to make room for the expediency of life. What do I mean by that? If a woman hasn’t been married by a certain age where her friends and family start to give her the serious side eye with the woman convincing herself that,
1) I have a decent man who is morally inferior, but it’s ok because most men are morally inferior and this is just what women have to deal with
2) Real love with a morally superior man only happens in the movies
3) I really don’t want to open myself up to a new relationship
4) My eggs are not getting any younger and I want to raise a family
5) I really do love him and even if my feelings are governed by fear now, I’ll get over it.
I understand why the aforementioned are powerful concepts but is it messy or dysfunctional? It depends on your perspective but if this woman married this man for these reasons, what is the likelihood of her living her best life with a husband, kids, and a career? To be sure, let’s all concede that getting married is not a cure to a relationship or a sign that it is healthy. Call me an idealist but I don’t think love should take a backseat to the expediency of life. All marriages are difficult enough in and of themselves so when you think about those dark times during your marriage when you won’t even want to be in the same bed as him, will you want to rely on love to keep it going or, “I am married, and I should stick it out.” I concede that love in and of itself is never enough for a successful relationship or marriage. However, to completely disregard love’s impact (or lack thereof) on your marriage, kids, and emotional and spiritual stability, is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
***Sisters please, be alone and find out how to be happy alone before you start your next relationship.*** The belief that things will be different next time is very strong and stems from the death grip that you have on the positive aspects of the relationship. I find it ironic how some women will simultaneously keep a death grip on the negative aspects that lead to things not working out with a morally superior man.
How many times have you claimed that this was going to be the “last time?” Time is really deep because a sister will be quick to tell you how many years (and you know you have to include the breaks) she has been with someone as if it that in and of itself justifies past, present, and future sacrifices because “I am not perfect and I owe him that much to see if we can make it.”
***It’s almost like “all these years” is tantamount for a man becoming a tenured professor because the guy can’t get fired save a serious breach of conduct. (e.g. violence)***
Showing Real Love
I believe in the notion that in some instances, the highest way to show love for someone is to let them go. There is also the idea that an inferior brother fighting to get you back doesn’t is a sign of his remorse and positive change. I think with inferior men, it is very possible that his fighting has less to do with his ability to love you better than it does his desire to not want to lose you.
Those two ideas are very distinct because they serve as the catalyst for men’s actions. For example, a morally superior man whose catalyst is to be with you will be governed by doing things that fulfill your needs promptly because today is too precious for him to risk the loss of fully experiencing love with you. A morally superior man will not will likely not fight to bring you back because more often than not, he doesn’t operate in emergency mode and if you need to go, he would rather see you happy than be in a relationship where you can’t get what you need.
On the other hand, a man whose catalyst is to not lose you will wait to fulfill your needs until he sees how upset you are from which minor situations turn into full out damage control, code red. A morally inferior man will fight like hell to keep you back because his love is often marked by grand gestures rather than day to day consistency. ***A man that is afraid to let you go will never let you grow. ***
I was thinking about how much society has overstated the value in a man fighting for you. I remember in Love Jones how when Nina was talking to her girlfriend about how she should tell Darious about her desire to see if she wants to work things out with her ex. Her girlfriend said, (paraphrasing) “Well girl, if he doesn’t say anything and plays it cool, then you know nothing was there and you go on to New York, but if he starts tripping, then you know you got him?” I never understood that scene. Regardless of what you think of Darious, did Nina have the right to be disappointed in his response? (Ignoring the slight smugness in Darious’ response) I thought it was painfully clear that while Nina liked Darious, she had to work out things with her ex. Now let’s assume that Darious had deep feelings for Nina when she told him about going back, was he supposed to try and “keep her” from going back? Ladies, if you have a man that you think has deep feelings for you and you had to work things out with your ex, would you rather he throw a tizzy over your leaving or would you respect him giving you your space? I understand that everyone is different but I think men that throw tizzies wrongly get significantly more respect than men who are willing to let go.
***In other words, a man that cannot let you go will only want you to grow as much as you can within the context of the relationship and whether that growth is less than what you need is immaterial because he can’t live without you.*** And deep down women know this and will sometimes try to imagine how they can extract the most amount of happiness from a situation where they know their deepest goals and desires are essentially “off the table.” At the end of the day, real love has nothing to do with you. Real love gives without expectations. H.Jackson Brown, Jr. said, “Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.” – Ladies, I submit to you that many of you believe and live this quote but do you think your man does as well? Real love will never allow the desire to be together trump the growth process of the other person.
No Good Brothers Out Here
So please, let’s stop with the “there are no good brothers out here.” There are really good brothers out here who are not only on point but are morally superior. The problem is that too many sisters won’t keep these brothers around long enough to reap the fruit that a fully functional loving relationship can bring.
Sisters, I know the statistics are not in your favor but I dare you to tell me that you never came across or tried to make it work with a morally superior brother. Now if you have been involved with one and things didn’t work out, chances are that you have explained that it didn’t work out because of some iteration of bad timing or it wasn’t mean to be. But when you think about it, it might also be true that the bad timing sprang directly from you letting Mr. Inferior take up so much mental and emotional real estate that have no room for Mr. Superior. And if that wasn’t the case, the unresolved issues from that past relationship were not fully worked out. Therefore, you tell yourself, “That was a nice ride, but he wasn’t meant for me.” That line of thinking is so self destructive because it reaffirms the unhealthy desire for mediocre love.
I want to scream, “Stop settling for morally inferior men,” but I don’t even think that advice is appropriate. Instead, I am going to scream, “STOP BEING SETTLED!!!” I say that because I am thinking about all the “SINGLE” Black women who have their facebook status set to single because they are not married when they are in full fledged, long-term, on and off relationships with a morally inferior man.
So in reality, many single sisters are not really single because their minds and hearts are in a perpetual relationship or the residuals of a relationship that leaves little room for real growth and an honest appreciation for a new chance at love.
What’s so sad about that is many sisters are carrying on comprehensively draining emotional and mental marriages with either no ring or a ring without peace of mind. So please stop deceiving yourself that what you deserve what you want because often times, sisters will adjust what they want based on what they can have right now. Therefore, Mr. Inferior is just a call away while what you really want is a better relationship with a morally superior man but you don’t want to invest the time, the emotions, or the newness that being with him requires. Moreover, the decision to end things with a morally superior man is often one of the few honest things a sister will experience a morally superior man will hold up the mirror to you and ask why don’t you want this to work? A morally inferior man just wants you in his life because he doesn’t want to lose you.
I know the brothers are much to blame for this state of affairs and in many ways they deserve more blame than you. Lest I be misunderstood, part II of this series will be exclusively devoted to the brothers. But ladies, I get it. It’s not fair. Some of the brothers you deal with stay on bs. I know sometimes it seems like it’s just a matter of time before a man hurts you or lets you down. I know the ironic comfort that comes from familiar pain. I know the ways you can twist your mind into situations that you would never encourage another woman to accept. It doesn’t have to be this way and you can stop it. All I ask of you is to,
1) Unsettle yourself.
2) Find the peace that comes from being ALONE AND HAPPY while defeating the fear of never being truly loved.
3) Refuse to settle again for the same mess
4) Make a conscious decision to be more morally superior in your own right.
5) Value a man that truly values your heart, time, and your desires.
6) Make a resolution to put at least half the energy to making it work with a morally superior man as you do putting forth the effort to make it work with a morally inferior man.
Brandon Q. White