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The End of Goodness?

Like many of us, I emerged into this world with a strong moral code. You simply do the right thing. Period. The obligation of true adulthood is that you speak the truth, no matter how uncomfortable, and allow that spoken truth to set life’s wheels in motion for whatever order and consequence naturally and appropriately unfold. You do as you say you will, follow through on your commitments, help people up rather than pressing them down, and choose and use your words carefully, ensuring they reflect accurately that which you know to be true.

In childhood, the primary influencing power that truth and goodness might otherwise have is often broken on the schoolyard when a bully emerges and asserts, no matter how wrong he may be, that his might makes him right. He then wins the fight, for that is what bullies are best at, and dictates an unnatural order upon all who sit back in fear, silently stunned. When I was a child in the 3rd grade at Alessandro Volta Elementary School in a European immigrant neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago, I remember being at the schoolyard one Saturday. Unlike the hyper-guarded, play-dated children of today, I had wandered the few blocks to the school of my own young accord. It was a typical city public school playground where whatever grass that existed begged its existence through the cracks in the asphalt surface. A semblance of blacktop order came from a painted-on baseball diamond, 100 yard dash racing lanes where Timmy Van Ryswick ran blazing speeds without swinging his arms, a pair of hopscotch tableaus and a collection of welded steel contraptions which served as swinging and climbing apparatuses. That day, one of my young neighbor friends who was in the 2nd grade was brought to the schoolyard by his father so he could be taught to settle the score with another boy. This man set his son loose to fight, but as his young charge began to lose, the annoyed father jumped into the fight and hit the other boy himself, bloodying his nose and sending him scurrying home in tears. Might clearly did not make right, although, as it so often does, it managed to dictate the order on the schoolyard that day. I’ll never forget the incredulous defense of the so-called father, when questioned by another adult who arrived on the scene with the previously-bloodied boy: “But I only hit him once!” Even at eight years of age, right and wrong can be glaringly self-evident, and this was decidedly wrong.

With Trump’s inauguration as President and the corresponding ascendance of mistruth and distortion to the mantle of our country’s schoolyard, I sense the wrongness of it all. As I did when I was young, I want so badly to believe that goodness, truth, fairness and kindness are the ultimate ordering forces of this world. I want to believe that our guides can be a kind word, a concern for our fellow humans, animals and planet, and a desire to speak the truth and strive for that which is good and right. Unfortunately the successful application of lies and manipulation, bullying and belittlement, and threats and rationalizations are infiltrating and stretching the moral fibers of our society.

I understand and truly believe that many among us are justified in having great dissatisfaction with our political system and for the way so many are disregarded by our government. I also understand how that dissatisfaction can lead to a desire for change. What confounds my senses, however, is how so many can casually turn a blind eye when presented with a concatenation of lies, a parade of ungrounded personal attacks and the open demeaning of women, disabled individuals, and those who choose to speak their truth in this land whose foundation is rooted in the exercise of free speech. Has goodness, being kind, speaking the truth and ordinary humility been reduced to something that we no longer value?

I so want to believe that goodness remains our primary inspiration, arbiter and guide. Much like when I witnessed a “father” bloodying another man’s young child on the schoolyard so many years ago, I’m left somewhat stunned, head tilting a little to the right, scanning my mind for disparate synapses that might yet link together into a rationalization of how something so blatantly out of sync with the basic tenets of morality could win the day while perhaps allowing for goodness to one day again prevail.

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