When I was little, we were taught that character – honesty, respect for people, empathy – mattered. It was a surefire way of “winning friends and influencing people”.
It was taught by Presidents, religious leaders, coaches, teachers, and, yes, even parents. It was the stuff of books, movies, TV shows, even Broadway musicals.
I have to admit, not everybody got on the bandwagon, but most did. Life was just easier – better – when you could trust each other.
OK boomer. Right?
And you know what else is funny? I never questioned the rule.
Years later one of my kids did. I had been bloviating about not cheating in school to the point of boring even myself when she said “Why?”
That stopped me. I realized two things: even though she was 8, she was a lot smarter than me, and “Because I said so” wasn’t going to fly.
I sorted through the possible explanations. “It’s wrong”? Uh, Duh! “You might get kicked out of school?” Better, but it didn’t answer the question. “Go ask your Mother?” I’d already used it three times that week.
Then it hit me. “Because if you cheat, you won’t learn what you need to learn.”
That piqued her curiosity.
“So, math. In order to learn math tomorrow, you have to know what was taught today. But if you cheat today, you can’t learn tomorrow’s math. And then you graduate and get a job, but you still can’t do 3rd grade math. So you get fired…and…”
OK. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do know it had to do with growing up stupid.
Years later, my grandson announced that he was going to have to start cheating because kids at his school were cheating and getting better grades and qualifying for better colleges.
”You want to be a doctor some day?”
“Do you want to save people with your knowledge or kill them with your ignorance?”
OK. I didn’t say that either, but whatever I did say convinced him.
Which brings me to the most important word in the English language, “why”.
Why does character matter? Why should we be honest with each other? Why are cheating, stealing, and lying bad?
In today’s world, lack of character doesn’t seem to hold people back. From cable companies to insurance companies to banks, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, has become “Do unto others before they do unto you”.
The good news? I think the pendulum might be swinging back.
Look at our President.
Most politicians bend the truth. Many actually lie. But compare Bill Clinton’s “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” to Trump’s 18000 lies and counting.
Most politicians try to put rose colored glasses on national emergencies, but compare George W Bush’s “Mission accomplished!” or “Good job, Brownie” to Trump’s “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it (coronavirus) miraculously goes away“.
Most politicians show respect to their counterparts. Trump has alienated everyone from France’s Macron to Japan’s Abe to Canada’s Trudeau. He’s threatened pulling out of NATO, established tariffs on the EU, Mexico, and Canada, deserted Kurdish soldiers on the battlefields of Syria, and ignored Russia’s bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Bye, Bye influence!
Instead of empathizing with Blacks, he encourages White Power.
Instead of comforting a nation and leading the effort to combat Covid19, he ignores it, forcing 50 states to fend for themselves. While other countries control the virus, the US sets records of new cases and deaths every day. Instead of wearing a mask, he turns masks into partisan symbols.
His political allies, once afraid of him, are starting to peel away. Florida’s Sen. Rubio: “Everyone should just wear a damn mask”. South Carolina Sen. Graham chastises Trump over defending the Confederate flag. Fox News refutes Trump’s “99 % of Covid19 cases are totally harmless.” Even the Supreme Court, which Trump has tried to stack, ruled against him on DACA, the Dreamer program.
The list of defectors, from Tillerson to Bolton, is long and growing.
Bye, Bye friends!
The result? Biden, the old school politician, is collecting more money than Trump. According to Fox News – yes, that Fox News – Biden was leading Trump by 8 points in May. Now it’s 12 points and growing.
I know it sounds crazy, but maybe, just maybe the country is looking for character again.