Right…I should admit from the start that this is one of the hardest posts I have ever had to write. I have agonized over what I want to say, why I want to say it and how best to say it for days.
I’m angry. Yes, yes, I know I’ve said that before (as well as declaring my other emotional states in the past few weeks). But this time, I’m really angry. With all the thinking I’ve been doing, I can safely say I’ve cooled down from ‘boiling rage’ to a ‘slow simmer’ but it’s taken a LOT of effort. I’m sharing all that because I might end up saying something that will sound offensive to someone or the other and I want you to know that if you’re the one offended, I’m not saying these things as a personal attack to you (or anyone) or because I’m being emotionally biased. I have honestly tried to make sure that my thoughts have been guided first by reason, and only then supplemented by emotion.
There. The disclaimer is done for this post so I’m going to move on with my rant now, ok?
Like most of us, I belong to more than one cyber social network. And for a long time, I’ve turned a blind eye to the concerns that these networks should raise in any sane, moral human being. Oops. Did I say ‘moral’? Yeah, this is about morality and the only thing I can promise is that I will do my best not to turn it into a spiel of self-righteous rhetoric.
Aside: If you’re even remotely bothered about the social standards we’re setting through our involvement and membership in these networks, read on. If you simply don’t give a d***, then this is where you can quit and switch to another link/page/post/video/wharreva.
The dictionary definition of moral is “adj. concerned with or relating to human behaviour and character, especially the distinction between good and bad or right and wrong behaviour.”
Over the past few decades, there has been a gradual movement within society to personalise morality. Everyone wants to decide what they want to do based on their own idea of what is right and what is wrong. Even those of us who claim to follow organized religions have begun to pick-’n-choose from the rules of our respective faiths so that we don’t ‘cramp our style’.
It’s as if we are trying to tailor God and His Laws to suit our individual lifestyles and despite that fact that we live in what we consider to be intellectually advanced times, we seem not to see the conundrum in that attempt. But more on that a little later. For now, let’s pretend that we’re okay as these loosely-belief-abiding individuals who live in a society where moral standards are solely set by ourselves.
So I’m on these networks and while I know there’s a lot of iffy stuff going on in the gadzillions of profiles and accounts across them, I feel pretty safe and responsible because I’m a mature adult and based on my personal principles I’m careful about who I pick as a friend or who can make comments and be part of my personal network. Well and good; I could live in my little cozy, cocoon all my life and not worry about a thing, yes? Actually, no. Why? Because…
Human beings don’t live in cocoons. And we don’t live purely individualistic existences. If we do, then we become those extremely selfish people who take from society, but don’t deem society worth giving back to. “No man is an island…” as John Donne said, which is probably such a famous quote because it’s so true.
Yet, how many time have you heard someone tell you that how they lead their lives is entirely their business? And how many times have you said it yourself? I don’t deny that there is some truth to that statement, but there’s a lot of untruth in it as well. How we lead our lives will never be entirely our own business.
With this mentality abound though, I’m being forced to think that our generation has devolved into a bunch of self-absorbed, materialistic, shallow and immature people. If that sounds harsh, it’s because it’s meant to. We let ourselves off the hook too easily, make up excuses for our deplorable manners and think that everything that is going wrong is ‘Someone Else’s Problem’. What we fail to realise (because of our short-sightedness) is that what is now SEP will in a few years be Our Total Responsibility.
Because we’re so occupied with our need to be instantly gratified – from responses to our text messages to how much fun we can pack into a Friday night – we forget that timeless event called perpetuation of society. We forget to (or chose to ignore ‘coz it makes things all serious) remember that the kind of behavioural patterns we exhibit today is what we will pass on to the next generation – not just our own children but the children of others; the children who will hang out and play with our children.
A lot of times I hear people say that they’re ‘getting things out of their system’ while still young; that they’ll sober up when they grow older and before they take on the responsibility of bringing up other little human beings. That might work in a skewed version of reality where there were guarantees of any sort. Every generation inherits lessons from the previous one. However, there are no clear-cut lines where this inheritance takes place.
What the people with this mentality overlook is that:
i) They can never be sure they’ll ever get everything out of their system. Look at a majority of the Hollywood celebs and you’ll see what I mean. (self-absorbed, shallow)
ii) They might die trying to get certain things out of their system (disease, poisoning, overdosing, accidents) or destroy the quality of their life so much that there wont be much of their system left when they’re ready to start living. (immature)
iii) While they’re doing their system-workout-thingy, there’s other people who already have very-much-alive-and-impressionable children and for whom they are setting that very same bad example that they don’t want to set for their own as-yet-non-existent offspring. (selfish)
iv) Learning the good stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Character, principles and good habits are developed over years of effort and discipline, so if they’re cultivating a culture of wildness now, when will they learn the qualities they want to pass on to their kids? (short-sighted, materialistic)
No matter how much you want to make your own mistakes, do your own thing and other people to mind their own business, you were born human…and that makes you part of humanity. Humanity is a community. We all fight for rights, don’t we? The right to live, the right to education, the right to free speech, the right to basic needs….then why not the right to a moral, upright society?
We support the cause of Human Rights with such gusto, I sometimes wonder why we don’t channel some of that energy into actually using our common sense to begin with. It is the morality of a society that leads to its members respecting or usurping these basic rights for others. There’s no point in trying to nurture the fruit when the roots of a tree are sick and rotten, it’s a futile exercise doomed to fail.
See, our forefathers were actually much wiser than even we give them credit for. They understood the value of experience and knowledge passed down over centuries. Unfortunately for us, with the fast-paced leaps in technology of our times, we got so big-headed on the new gadgets and concepts we had to play with that we forgot all about Balance: Mind, Body AND Soul.
Science is cool for machines, but human beings don’t run on motorized hearts or souls. In rejecting culture and tradition, we missed out on the biggest, most commonly-known secret our ancestors knew: that a stable community or society is founded on respect, concern and sacrifice: for self as well as others.
The funny thing is, we do expect all these things in mini-communities of our own choosing. Think of the last time you worked on a team project. What did you expect from the others on the team? Respect for the task at hand and for each member, concern about how to make the project a success, sacrifice in terms of discipline, helping each other out, meeting deadlines. How successful a task is depends on how good the team dynamics are.
Once the project is over though, we want to each go home and leave behind the responsibilities we carried while on it. And we can do that because each project has a time line. But Life isn’t a day-job and the time line you’re on ends with Death; you don’t get a second-shot at this project. As morbid as that sounds, it’s a fact and one each of us needs to get used to if we want to make any sense or purpose out of our lives.
So what really set me off on this post was that a couple of days ago, someone on one of my network lists sent out a link that I followed…and it led me somewhere that I can only politely describe as ‘morally deplorable – actually I don’t even need to qualify it with morality. It was reprehensible by any standards and if I wasn’t attempting to be diplomatic I would just have said it was disgusting.
If that’s not enough, the people who shared in viewing this link actually found the contents amusing. Enough to comment on and have a good laugh over. And I was stuck wondering whether I’d suddenly been transported into an alternate universe. Weren’t these people I knew? People who have in the past spoken strongly about values like self-respect, nobility and etiquette? People who have protested against discrimination, stereotyping and the degradation of human nature?
It got me wondering when disgusting had transmogrified into funny and something struck me that I found hugely interesting. If you’ve ever considered how our values have become diluted and how virtues have suddenly become vices and vice versa, I think I found the answer – or two parts of it:
a) mockery/comic relief.
Allow me to explain.
a) When you laugh at something, it immediately loses its depth. If you can manage to get enough people to laugh at something, you can create a ‘genre’ of humour and then slowly build a fan-base around it. The flip-side is that the opposite of that becomes non-amusing and thus gains substance of some sort.
Quick example: abstinence was not only a norm a few decades ago, it was also considered part of self-respect (as well as part of faith). With time, those who wanted to shed the negative connotations of promiscuity began to tell the other side that they were repressed, ashamed of their human inclinations and that religion actually considered this very natural act to be something ‘wrong’ or ‘dirty’.
They rebelled in waves, the most popular probably being the Flower Children of the 1960s, whose philosophy was: "Do your own thing, wherever you have to do it and whenever you want. Drop out. Leave society as you have known it. Leave it utterly. Blow the mind of every straight person you can reach. Turn them on, if not to drugs, then to beauty, love, honesty, fun."
Apart from the explicitly selfish tone of the credo, see how drugs and fun are use in the same sentence as ‘beauty, love, honesty’? How it levels out all these things onto one equal plane so that they seem almost synonymous?
During this movement, one of the worst insults you could get was to be called a ‘prude’ or ‘puritan’ for refusing to participate in open discussions or activities of an intimate nature. You were considered to have psychological hang-ups and a stunted development in that area of social relationships.
To be fair, it was the fault of religious institutions that they did not educate their followers on the true stand of religion on the matter and allowed these misconceptions to spread.
However, once the mind-set had been firmly established and no longer needed the hippies or the open mockery, it was time to embed it further. Enter the comedy – crude puns, jokes, stories, movies – if you could learn to laugh at promiscuity, you would excuse it in others and then accept it as normal and soon after perhaps even indulge in it. After all, how can something that can make you laugh be bad, right? It’s all just a bit of fun, innit? Any one who has watched sitcoms for a even a few years will tell you that from ‘comic’ to ‘cool’ is a very small, almost indiscernible leap.
Enter the age of the Muslim who prays, fasts and celebrates Idd or the Christian who confesses, goes to church tithes and celebrates Christmas, but sees absolutely no conflict in having a ‘steady’ girl- or boy-friend and in fact worries friends if they go past the acceptable number of dates and haven’t moved on to the ‘next stage’ yet. (For those even more clueless than me, the next stage aint marriage…)
b) Words are the building blocks of our thoughts. Changing the word used to describe something changes the way you see and perceive it. I only need one example and no, I’m not going to use the obvious Muslim/terrorist one. I’m going to use the link that started off this post because yes, I STILL am seething about it.
So, what little I read on the page the link opened – before I got eye-sore, jabbed wildly at the ‘Back’ button and then deleted all my bookmarks and cookies so I’d never stumble on that page again – would have the following progression in the time line of vocabulary:
Evil > Dark > Disturbing > Explicit > Suggestive > Adult
Now you could probably switch over a couple of the words or even add some that I was loathe to actually type out, but the main point is to see how something that would have been considered wrong enough to be shunned and kept away from a healthy society has now been made reduced to an innocent ‘adult’ rating.
What the heck does ‘adult’ mean anyway? That you can get away with saying anything and doing anything that you wouldn’t let a child do simply ‘coz you’re bigger and have existed longer? That you don’t think it’s good for a child (who is simply a human being in progress), but it would be good for that same child with the addition of a few years? That children should become the kind of adults we tell them to be, but not the kind of adults we ourselves are?
That’s some intense hypocrisy, isn’t it? We want a world filled with cute, innocent kids who have the right to live in a clean, upright society where they will be loved, cared for and taught the qualities of good character and allowed to have dreams of a bright future, yet we can indulge in the exact opposite and it’s ‘mind your own business’ when we’re corrected?
Wake up call. We are the ones who actually make up that society and are responsible for establishing that future environment in which we want these children to blossom. It won’t magically apparate out of a distant time, we have to each and every one of us work together to build it brick by brick, principle by principle.
So, sorry, your business is not just your own. It never was and it never will be, no matter how many times you chant that mantra. Everything in the world is connected. You can never tell the full consequences of your words or actions because you can never be aware of every person who has or will heard you or has had a direct or indirect effect from it. Every moment of every day, you’re doing something that spreads out like the ripples in a pond and is more far-reaching that you could ever imagine.
Sometimes you can’t tell whether what you do will have a positive or a negative result. But sometimes you can. While you have no control over the former, you have full responsibility over the latter.
That link I’ve been obsessing about all this post? I saw it and I had the sense to delete it. I’m sure others did the same. But some laughed at it. They showed acceptance of and approval for it. They encouraged visiting it, they passed it on to friends. They propagated it. What does that say about their personal moral standards?
If I claim to be anti-racial discrimination and then I laugh at racial jokes, what does that make me? If I claim that women are being objectified by men and then I’m the same person sharing crude or explicit content with male friends – sometime even strangers who are simply ‘cyber-pals’ – and laughing over it myself, how much respect do I honestly expect from men at the end of the day?
On the other hand, that link was also very public and had no ‘disturbing content’ warning, so if a young person or a child was to stumble on it through the profile of a relative or a friend, can those who shared it sincerely remove themselves from the chain that might end up being the noose around that child’s moral neck?
I don’t really know how much of this will make it through to anyone. I’ve avoided bringing in too much religious references because I don’t want this to be only for the ‘faithful’. The next generation is made up of children of all racial, cultural and religious denominations and we need to set up a standard of character and humanity for all of them so that they can be fully equipped to make the world a better place and clean up the mess that we’ve made of it. We can’t do that if we bring them up to be like us.
We have spent millions in dollars and countless hours trying to save the world geographically and repair the damages our parents made to it. But money and time can’t heal the wounds of character – only personal change can. So sure, you can nod your head in agreement and make a comment on this post too. But I’d rather you did something as well.
If you really want to contribute something worthwhile then take a look at your life and see what you can change about it. What kinds of things you say, do and yes – very importantly – laugh at? Be honest and ask yourself how many moral compromises you’re making just so that you can ‘fit’ in with the rest of the world and be ‘fun’.
Ask yourself what principles you stand for and how long and strong will you stand for them? Would you teach or encourage a child to use obscenities? No? Why? Because they’re ‘foul’, right? So what makes it okay for you to use them? Why don’t you consider your own tongue worthy of the same clean respect you want for a child? And if you don’t use them, then do you show your disapproval when others spew expletives? If you’d cover the ears of a child to prevent them from hearing it, why expose your own?
Making changes is hard, sure, but who said life was easy? And wouldn’t you rather know you worked for something that actually had the potential to change the future of the world – literally?
The only way to recapture some sense of human honour and nobility is to change the way we live on a daily basis. We have to be willing to establish a firm, stable framework for social norms to stand on just as we strive to do for the economic and political sectors. And to do that we have to accept that while our private lives are our own to do as we wish in them, our public actions will always set an example to others. Others who include people that look up to us as role models and who learn what it means to be ‘adult’ from our actions.
Once upon a time ‘adult’ was synonymous with being responsible, mature, courageous, principled, trustworthy, self-sacrificing and purposeful. It was a sign of coming of age and finally getting a chance to give back to society what an individual had received while growing up. Today, my online dictionary has added another definition to the word: “Containing or dealing in explicitly sexual material; pornographic”.
Once upon a time, growing up meant being given a chance to become the best human being you could be, now it means hitting the legal age limit so you can finally drink, drive and debauch without breaking the (laughable) ‘law’.
Which makes me as sad as I am angry.
So I’ve had my say. This is where I thank you for reading me this far and also where I tell you that I’m making a resolution. I’m not going to sit back and watch the society where I hope to watch my nephews and niece (and any children I may have) grow up, be sabotaged by a bunch of people who care about nothing except themselves and their own needs for gratification.
I am going to protest and take a stand every chance I get. You can choose to be either with me or against me or you could be a spineless ostrich, stick your head in a sand dune and get decapitated when the storm comes. The choice is yours. Make it a wise one – for your own sake and the sake of those you love.
Oh, and remember (waaay up) above where I mentioned tailoring God? Well, if you claim to belong to any monotheistic faith, then you know that the God you believe in does in no uncertain terms condemn all the things I’ve talked about above. He calls the shots, you follow them. There’s no two ways about that, so stop being a hypocrite or find another belief-system.
And sorry but that doesn’t mean you get to ignore the issue if you’re agnostic or atheist. You don’t have to be a Believer to realise that you have a moral responsibility – you just need to be Human. Enough of one, that is.