Moral Clarity

Yesterday my 7 year old son told me a bold face lie. He lied for expedience about a test at school- he didn’t want to study so he said it had already passed. After he was exposed and admitted to the lie, my wife and I tried to explain integrity. I talked about meaning what you say and being honest even when it is tough to do so. My wife and I talked about the importance of trust and gave examples. We all want our kids to be honest with us and do what is right. As a society however we have lost much of our collective integrity and moral clarity.

The recent former LAPD shooter is a good example. Despite killing multiple innocent people not even directly connected to his grievance the shooter has generated significant support from many. Even some very law abiding and decent people have sympathized with his plight and assumed that he was wronged. The shooter, now deceased, has had his firing re-opened by the LAPD. I do not pretend to know if he was wronged or not or what if any was true in his published manifesto- I find it completely irrelevant. Have we gotten so far from moral certainty and discernment that a man can kill four innocent people and be praised by some and partially excused by others? Most of us have been fired unfairly before; many of us- myself included; have had others in the workplace lie about us in order to gain an edge. As your mother probably told you- two wrongs don’t make a right. The second this man decided to take a life he should have lost all credibility- he should have been strongly and unequivocally condemned by all. His manifesto shouldn’t have been published widely in the media- he should have been seen as the criminal lowlife murderer he was. It can be natural to root for an underdog and many have had poor dealings with the LAPD or police in general. When I drove most of the day for work I racked up quite a few trivial or unfair traffic tickets. Most of the officers I dealt with were unhappy and discourteous- I felt I was often treated unfairly. The LAPD has had major corruption scandals and officers have even been convicted of murder- I have no illusions about the LAPD. Most big organizations will have some major flaws. None of this justifies murder- the LAPD shooter may have been wronged- but the second he shot that innocent young couple he earned his violent death. People generally hate unfairness and perhaps that is why so many rallied to his cause- assuming his accusations were true. I think there is something else at play- moral relativism and a lack of clarity.

Moral relativism is a cancer that eats at the moral fabric of our society. We now are encouraged not to judge anyones behavior and we tend to focus on all the excuses instead of the morally deficient behavior of a person. Class and race play a role as well. Stealing from a rich corporation by illegally downloading software or music is deemed ok. Of course the reality is that the rich and powerful are rarely hurt much by these thefts- it is the lowlier workers that suffer as revenues dry up- but this is again irrelevant- theft is wrong either way. Young minority gang members who terrorize their own communities are merely victims of racism and “the system”.

Let’s be clear, no one has the same experience in life- fairness doesn’t exist. Some people have many more breaks than others. Some of us have loving parents and financial security some of us have neither. We do need to try to understand root causes and we do need to try to help the less fortunate- including criminals and especially children who are more reachable. However we also need to make judgements and hold people accountable on a community and societal level. Young men who impregnate women and then run shouldn’t be called “baby daddies” and they shouldn’t be able to walk with their heads high anywhere. They should be condemned by their communities and shamed by society until they take responsibility. Society should forgive people their transgressions but not without conditions and atonement. We need to remove the excuses as well and stop allowing some to absolve themselves of responsibility by always playing the victim. Being a victim can paralyze a person as they blame everything on some external force beyond their own control. Real victims exist but the successful are rarely without adversity; they just learn to rise above it and take responsibility for their lives.

Christianity is the biggest influence to my morality as it is for many others but I have known many men of great integrity and moral clarity who are atheists. My father is deeply religious and has abundant integrity, he is honest to a fault and carefully considers all his decisions. He is very careful never to take advantage of anyone, even when he has been taken advantage of by many. His deep faith allows him to keep things in perspective and he believes he will be richly rewarded some day. On the other side is my favorite teacher, Mr. R. I remember Mr. R. being in tears apologizing to the class for what I thought was a relatively harmless comment he made that embarrassed a student. He cared so deeply that he had hurt this girl that he visibly wept; even though everyone knew he had no malice and was only trying to be funny. I also remember him being deeply hurt when he found out that several students had cheated on a test. Morality need not come from faith or religion- but there is a basic morality that everyone should uphold. It can be relatively easily defined in the golden rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated.

As a child I remember several occasions where I thought I’d been treated unfairly and told my mother. My mother almost always sided with the adult or authority in question. When she did fight for me she did it without my knowledge or on rare occasions where she knew I was right. My mother reinforced personal responsibility and discipline and now I do that for my son. It is easier to make excuses for our children, to be on their side always- but this is a grave injustice to them. Our children need parents who act as parents not as friends.

We do no service to the immoral when we make excuses for them or try to justify their actions. We owe them accountability most of all. Our young men are especially vulnerable, they need strong and steady leadership- they need to be taught right and wrong. They need limits and boundaries- in the absence of these things they lash out and test the limits of their egos. For some this leads to a violent, criminal life. Let’s not take the easy or politically correct way out let us do our best to be moral leaders in our spheres of influence. Live by example first- but do not be afraid of speaking out and holding others accountable.

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