Social skill: Distinguishing between personal piety and basic morality

There is a difference between things that are basic requirements for all decent people, and things that are matters of personal piety.

Just about every group I’ve seen has problems distinguishing this. I’ve seen this in anarchist space, religious space, environmentalist space, social justice space, disability space, antiracist space, and just about everywhere else.

Personal piety is a good thing. It’s good for people to be strict with themselves and hold themselves to a higher standard. It’s a perversion to attempt to hold *everyone else* to that standard and treat them as though they are bad people for not following it, though. It’s not proper piety if you use it as a weapon against others.

For instance: 

Basic morality: don’t insult people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Don’t use slurs to describe people, or as generic insults. Recognize the humanity of everyone.

Personal piety: examining language very careful and eliminating all words or images that have some sort of problematic connotation. 

More specific example: 

Basic morality: Don’t make jokes that suggest that rape is ok

Personal piety: Not ever saying “fuck off” because it gets some of its power from rape culture

Another example: Veganism is a matter of personal piety, one being stringent on oneself to avoid harming animals. But sometimes people who take that on consider it basic morality and end up hurting people (for instance, by refusing to acknowledge that many humans can’t safely eat a vegan diet).

Personal piety in itself can be a very good thing – so long as it doesn’t lead to harming others by setting the goalposts of decency impossibly high. No one can take on every worthwhile pietistic practice, and having failed to take on one in particular is not evidence that someone is a bad person. And treating people who don’t deserve it as bad people is the exact opposite of what a worthwhile pietistic practice should be accomplishing.