The “isms” are taking a lot of blame these days. Racism, sexism, chauvinism; the list goes on and on. We hear these terms thrown around far too often and with little concern for their real meaning.
But hey, it doesn’t matter because, at the end of the day, all these “isms” are really to blame for our modern societal problems, right? Wrong. These “isms” are merely symptoms of the much bigger, much deeper problem most of society refuses to acknowledge: a lack of morality. Sadly, I feel the need to begin by defining morality. According to Merriam Webster, morality is a “doctrine or system of moral conduct” or “conformity to ideals of right human conduct.”
Morality is a doctrine or system of moral conduct or conformity to ideals of right human conduct.
The distinction between right and wrong human conduct has been blurred for years by a mainstream culture that is willing to justify everything. Whether intentionally or not, the gradual watering down of morality has led to the myriad of problems we are currently experiencing.
The glorification of self
Many of the problems can be attributed to the rise of the individual, the glorification of the self. We live in a culture steeped in narcissism, and the negative effects of an over-emphasis on the self are detailed in “Narcissism is Making us Miserable” . When the individual self becomes the end all be all, the concern for the good of others, or the desire to truly love, is lost. People are no longer concerned with how their behavior affects others, and are actually being encouraged to think this way. We live in the age of good vibes and endless pleasure; if something doesn’t make you happy then you shouldn’t have to engage in it, and if something brings you pleasure then that should be justification enough for its acceptability.
We live in the age of good vibes and endless pleasure; if something doesn’t make you happy then you shouldn’t have to engage in it, and if something brings you pleasure then that should be justification enough for its acceptability.
The focus of this thought process lies with the individual seeking pleasure or happiness, and there is no regard for the others potentially involved. Obviously, some things like wanting to eat an entire pint of ice cream have no effect on others or even any real moral significance, but I’m talking about the bigger issues here, like sex, for example, that modern society says should be accessible if ever the desire strikes. The problem with this moral ambiguity is that it becomes difficult to determine where to draw the line. If we have these deep sexual desires constantly gnawing at us, what is acceptable and what isn’t, and more importantly, why? Why is it ok to head to the bars looking for someone to use for pleasure, but it isn’t ok to forcibly ensure these sexual desires are satisfied?
I am by no means arguing that rape is ever acceptable, but rather raising the issue of where to draw the line that is erased by moral ambiguity. The trouble is that when you live by the “do what makes you feel good” ideology the place at which the line is drawn becomes unclear. No one would argue that murder or rape are acceptable patterns of behavior, and they would most certainly be correct. At some point, however, those committing such heinous acts did so because it felt right or because it was just the way they wanted to behave. If doing what “feels good” is the meter for acceptable behavior then it becomes difficult to objectively differentiate between right and wrong.
If doing what “feels good” is the meter for acceptable behavior then it becomes difficult to objectively differentiate between right and wrong.
The decline of morality isn’t a recent thing
Morality has been declining for a long time. Gallup started tracking American views on morality as recently as 2002, and “the percentage saying worse has always been well above the majority level” with a consistent increase in the number of Americans who state that the morality of the country is declining. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that we’ve been appalled by immoral behavior until recently because that simply isn’t the case.
For years we have been accepting and glorifying immorality at every turn: in our movies, in our music, and even in our elected leaders. Immorality was rampant long before Donald Trump or Bill Clinton, and the fault lies on both sides of the aisle. The culture that pretends to look away in disgust does so only to quietly encourage the same immorality they supposedly can’t stand.
We want to criticize those who objectify women but will listen to any song that talks explicitly about every female body part. We want respectful relationships but consume more porn than any other nation on earth. We don’t think it’s acceptable for our politicians to swear but have no trouble dropping f-bombs ourselves. Hollywood promotes the “Me Too” movement all while secretly accepting the long-standing culture of casting couches.
Hollywood promotes the “Me Too” movement all while secretly accepting the long-standing culture of casting couches.
We denounce racism without wanting to be accountable for really respecting others or the dignity of all human life. The truth is we can’t have our cake and eat it too; we don’t get to demand that the leaders who represent us act in a different way if we ourselves aren’t willing to act that way. We don’t get to demand a high level of morality from everyone around us that we ourselves don’t have to follow.
Morality is hard
So why is a society that is struggling so hard to claw its way out of a moral decline continuing to fail? Because morality is hard. Doing the right thing takes strength, conviction, and an effort that most people are willing to give voice to but not actually act on. Respecting people, considering the good of others, and not always thinking of yourself first is difficult.
It takes sacrifice to make changes and to rise above the culture, as well as a willingness to assess failings. Admitting where we went wrong and recognizing that maybe the sexual revolution wasn’t as liberating as society hoped would be a start. While the big issues are certainly important, the decline of morality makes its way into the little things first, slowly unraveling the culture one piece at a time.
Respecting people, considering the good of others, and not always thinking of yourself first is difficult. It takes sacrifice to make changes and to rise above the culture, as well as a willingness to assess failings.
An unwillingness to have respectful conversations, the disregard for the consequences of your actions, the obliviousness to the feelings of others, and the blatant disregard for basic human dignity are all significant but everyday ways that life requires us to act morally. The moral crisis isn’t going to fix itself, and it certainly isn’t going to start with those at the top. Everyday people, through everyday actions, are going to have to start making the tough choices to act morally, no matter what the cost. So many people have dreams of "making the world a better place." Let's start by changing ourselves for the better.