Operating in a Moral Vacuum

Even with all of the things in my own life considered, I’ve often wondered why it is so difficult for so many to do what each of us knows to be right. It’s as if we have begun to stop caring about doing the right thing. In some cases it’s almost understandable; clamming up and failing to take action can be a selfish thing, saving one’s own career or hide. In most cases, though, there’s little excuse for doing the exact opposite of what’s right.

Ever notice how you don’t have to teach a child to do what’s wrong? When I was a kid, I regularly did the exact opposite of what I was told. “Don’t touch the grill, Mel, you’ll burn yourself,” my father said. I planted both hands on the bottom of that shiny black kettle grill. “Don’t open the medicine cabinet, Mel, what’s in there can make you sick,” said my mother. Not only did I eat an entire box of chocolate-covered Ex-Lax, I took the box to my dad and smiled as I told him that I’d eaten it. “Don’t play with the electrical outlets, Mel, you’ll hurt yourself!” My parents sat me down to explain this to me. I’m not sure what the bigger mistake was: telling me not to play with them or showing me how they put the plastic covers on them so I could later figure out how to pry the little bastards off with the car key that I immediately inserted into one of the slots.

(So if any of you ever wondered what was wrong with me…)

A child knows full well what they’re NOT supposed to do because in normal homes, mom and dad say “no, you can’t do that.” At school, there are boundaries, rules, places you can’t go and certain times you have to be in certain places. But a child will naturally push those rules and do things they know to be wrong, partially out of rebellion but mostly out of curiosity.

A kid needs to learn those lessons. What’s an adult’s excuse?

I didn’t like being a corrections officer. I didn’t like what I became. I was an instant asshole–just add uniform and gear, only $17.99 an hour! I became that way because I had no patience for listening to grown men whine about being forced to obey the rules. I’ve never understood how a human being can terrorize other human beings at will for their own pleasure. And I’ve certainly never understood how, after doing such a thing, they can whine about paying for it. Many of my fellow officers felt the same way I did but they realized they’d never change the way life is, so they–in a way–accepted it.

Something that I think is a little more insidious than the evil that our prisons are always teeming with, however, is the wrongs we commit against each other on a daily basis. Have you ever made fun of someone at work, school or church? Did you ever feel guilty about it? Most liberals I know wouldn’t because their sense of right and wrong is barely there (at least until they’re made the victim). When the “friends” I thought I could trust made fun of another person nearby, then acted like sweetness and light when this person was around, I never realized how wrong it was. Then they turned it on me. I overheard them one day making fun of me–my weight, my geeky personality, my muscular build, my more masculine qualities, and the fact that I had a little crush on someone who wouldn’t have given me the time of day.

Suffice to say, it hurt.

It didn’t take me long to remember just kind of chuckling at some of the horrible things I’d heard them say about another person. I not only didn’t speak up and tell them it was wrong, I went along with it. Laughing at what they were saying was just as bad as taking part in it and saying those things myself. I will certainly not allow those people to get to close to me anymore, but I also won’t forget that I am capable of being just as harsh. It took being hurt the same way to see that.

I’ve never really been afraid of death. I know what’s going to happen. I’ll get to go home. I’ll get to see all the people I’ve lost in this life again in a place where I’ll never be hurt, I’ll never have to struggle anymore, and I’ll never be alone again. Sometimes I wonder if my lack of fear is the reason why God has allowed me to remain here, enshrined in this weakness that we call skin. Then I learn lessons like these–simple but nonetheless important–and my eyes are opened a little more.

A doctor brought up an important point with me today. Most human beings don’t have much concept of right and wrong until it directly affects them. The only creatures on this planet that are truly solitary are tigers; humans, like every other being, operate in a social milieu and naturally conform to the group they’re in for the sake of survival. If that means being humble, being cruel, or being criminal, people will do whatever it takes to be accepted. Acceptance is something I’ve wanted my whole life, but now I wonder if it’s really what I need.

I hope I never operate in the moral vacuum I’ve seen in others around me. If I ever cease to feel guilty about the things I fail to get right, I will be lost.