I’ve suggested for some time that we live in a society in which the pursuit of irrational self-interest has become the predominant religion. By irrational self-interest I mean that we view the immediate gratification we receive from an activity as being of far more importance than the ultimate consequences of that behavior.
A simple example would be the person who goes out partying on Saturday night. She has a good time getting looped, only to blow a 2.0 on the breathalyzer after she wraps her car around a lamp pole on the way home, killing someone waiting at a bus stop and then undergoes a series of plastic surgeries to return her face to something close to what it looked like before the accident.
I believe that if you were to interview anyone who found herself in this situation and asked, “If you knew how going out and getting drunk would forever change the rest of your life would you still do it?,” she would emphatically respond, “No.” Of course, by then it’s far too late to alter what has happened.
Society’s response to bad behavior is generally re-active rather than pro-active. That is because society is made up of people who think in irrationally self-interested ways; elect legislators who think similarly to their constituents and who promulgate laws based on their after the fact mentality rather than trying to construct programs which might minimize the number of incidents for which we then specify a punishment.
I remember that in grammar school, in addition to the academic awards of “Honor Roll” and “High Honor Roll” which were presented to those of us who attained certain levels of proficiency in our studies there was another award that was given called a “Citizenship Award”. In some ways, I prized this award the most highly.
I knew from my report cards whether I would make the High Honor Roll. But the Citizenship Award was not measured by test scores and final exams. It was awarded or withheld based on my conduct throughout the year and was conferred after my teachers and the principal discussed the behavior I had exhibited.
I’m sure there were a lot of factors that went into their determination about which of us students would receive this award. Perhaps being on time for class was one of the factors and conducting ourselves appropriately during “fire drills” was another. But these and the other factors that our educators considered all stemmed from one fundamental principle – whether or not we were respectful of ourselves and knew how to extend that respect to our fellow students and those who had devoted themselves to educating us.
Of course, I had a leg up because the same values that I was taught in school were ones that were practiced by my parents at home. It was natural for me to be courteous and hold the door open for someone or to give up my seat if an elderly person boarded a crowded bus. I saw my parents do that all the time and I learned from them.
Thirty or forty years ago such behavior was the norm rather than the exception. I seldom find children with that same outlook today – but then I seldom find it in their parents either, a fact which no doubt contributes to their progenies’ attitudes and behavior.
I would have been shocked to read the story I reviewed this morning if we went back to the time that I was much younger. This would have been so horrible that I would have wondered whether the media got it right. How could anyone possibly be so insensitive? But today, the story that follows is so typical of ones that we read each day that we have become de-sensitized to them.
OHIO MAN SENTENCED TO JAIL AFTER TEASING DISABLED GIRL
“An Ohio man faces one month of jail time for teasing and taunting a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy after a video of the incident went viral.”
The story goes on to relate how William Bailey who lives next door to the little girl’s family, “was dragging his leg and patting his arm across his chest [while he was waiting for the school bus] to pick his son Joseph up.” I asked him to please stop doing this. ‘My daughter can see you.’ He then told his son to walk like the R-word.”
Mr. Bailey is 43 years old. His son, Joseph is 9. Last summer this child stopped by to play with the little girl and her siblings in their home. He brought a pocket knife with him and threatened to “cut up” the disabled child and then began calling her names. By the way, the little girl who was taunted is named, Hope.
I have always enjoyed reading about the early civilizations which mankind forged together. I was fascinated by Greek mythology as a child. Referring back to that, when Pandora’s box was closed and the one remaining virtue left inside was “Hope”, I am afraid that it might have been hermetically sealed.