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Op Ed: Kris Rosenberg 1996; Posted Aug 2004

What is happening to good old-fashioned morality? Look at our nation of broken homes, teen-age pregnancies, the struggle of fundamentalists to usurp our political freedom. Again and again our political leaders are exposed as philanderers or worse. It's all there. I am as enraged as anyone can be. I sometimes cry when I read newspapers. The complexity of problems sometimes discourages me to despair. Where can anyone begin? What can one person do?

Then I think; a few generations ago women died so young that marriages lasted no longer than they do today; Thomas Jefferson kept slaves.

We just might not be going to hell after all. Taking off our gray glasses, we can see a few signs of spring. As a matter of law, we have prohibited discrimination of many sorts. Far beyond law, we are increasingly aware of the pain and need of the weak, the few, as against the many and the powerful. We are sensitive to the suffering of animals, passionately responsive to injustice toward minorities, children, crime vic tims, women.

In my adolescence (and I am not yet collecting Social Security), mentally retarded children were hidden from view, in institutions or their own homes, because of the stigma of having born them. Now they have federally protected rights to education and training and, sometimes, care. Back then blacks sat in the back of the bus and, if those few seats were taken, although there may be empty ones up front, a poor old woman would be passed by, standing in the gray chilling rain waiting to go scrub someone's house where she was paid a dollar for her labors. She cooked for white children, but couldn't drink from the same fountain in the 10 cent store.

We are less willing to buy the inevitability of war without the deepest efforts for peace; we are more ready to take courageous stands against the wrongs of government, although there are always those who yell, "Love it or leave it." That's why as they said to Jesus, too, in effect: "Jerusalem , love it or leave it."

Oh, yes, I recall the bad old days. Beggars came to the door and we didn't live in a mansion. Although our homeless today need wiser intervention, multiple public and private agencies provide something. And we, the people, support these efforts, above and beyond our taxes. Americans give more than ever and more than anyone else for social welfare on a world scale.

We consistently respond to individual stories of tortured puppies, abandoned newborns, earthquake victims, a child surviving a plane crash or caught in a well. We read of tragedy and we are there.

Injured workers can be compensated; manufacturers are compelled to implement safety measures. The work of children is strictly regulated. Clumsy as these efforts often are, there is an underlying ethic in our system.

Are we now more aware of the crooked because we have a straighter stick to measure by? Don't we analyze our values from a different perspective?

Exposure of detail, now our mode, leaves no closet for skeletons. I see myself as a moral person yet I could never run for office, to risk having the family fossils unearthed. The glare of truth, like the quality of mercy, brings its light upon the enormous and the trivial alike. Even so, the digging up of buried bones by the press contributes to our appraisal of those who would lead us.

It may be precisely because our legal structure has embraced human liberties that we perceive our morality so critically. Jefferson 's slaves were the essence of that good old-fashioned morality. When civil rights issues first broke in courts, the resistance cry was, "You can't legislate morality." Yet we can and we are, to some extent. We can't legislate tender hearts, it is true, but we can and do legislate behaviors. Sometimes we begin to be what we do. Perhaps we have more appearance of evil precisely because our vision only now begins to focus.

[Ed: For additional commentary along these lines see: Even a Child Can Do It, and Can People Change? For a contemporary response to Mr. Bush's "family values" (Meaning anti-choice and anti-gay)see: Momsrising. Some people have had enough. ]


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