Thursday, July 26th, 2012...2:06 pm
Love, Actually: Chapter Five: “Morality Alfresco”
Continuing my series featuring selections from my new book, Love, Actually, here’s Chapter Five:
We have the Bill of Rights. What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities.
In Chapter Three, I used the expression, “inner light,” to describe some awareness it is theorized God has put inside you and me to give us an independent awareness to base our faith on. The idea that this inner light is the final and only proof of God’s existence was used by the Augustinian brothers at my Catholic high school to back away from Socratic lines of discussion that were not leading in a direction conducive to the propagation of our faith.
Rather than just swallowing that pill, though- and rather than refusing it- I looked for my own truth in it. And, what better a concept to find your own way with than one that says only you hold the true awareness, right?
For me, the problem with the “inner light” concept is that my own innate awareness does not extend to anything concrete, such as a particular fact, image, or person, including God.
In junior high, my gang of kids met up with a born-again Christian, a grown man who came up to us on the street and handed us pamphlets and tried to “save” us all. We each bought it, and we tried very hard to be “reborn.” I remember the concentrated effort to contact the God in my soul. A very comparable experience was when I, in the sixth grade- after having seen a dramatic performance by a performer on the Johnny Carson Show the night before- tried to bend a spoon using “astral mind power.” A crowd gathered around me there in the lunchroom. I could’ve been elected class president in those 15 minutes. The spoon would not bend, though. When it was time to go on to 5th period, I was washed up.
I have learned-knowledge and I have feelings. Maybe if I meditate, I’ll find more feelings. If I meditate and take LSD, maybe I’ll have more feelings and even see visions. Maybe if I meditate and take LSD and sit out on the desert or in a Native American sweat lodge for a few hours, I’ll become absolutely possessed by a host of heavenly spirits.
I don’t know.
What I do know that is basic and that I couldn’t change if I wanted to is my own impulsive morality. I can tell you what is loving and what is not. This morality is, I believe, more integral to who I identify myself to be than even my memories.
I’ll call this my soul.
Soul: the actuating cause of an individual life.
This is not an atheistic idea, that morality is something intrinsic to human living on Earth. And it’s not an idea that argues against atheism, either. In this understanding, the default character for a properly nurtured and healthy human is morally sophisticated, inclined towards empathy as a result of influences attributable to (pick one:) Nature, God, or Mom and Dad’s love.
Who’d of thunk it?
The religion I was raised with taught that we are stained with sin. That was the default- and only religion straightens us out through various technical religious compacts with God. In ways like this religions usurp our concept of control over our own morality.
This is not to say that through religion we are not attempting to serve a good purpose. Often, too scared to move in an unpopular direction, people need the moral way asserted by a leader or group- we sometimes need to be led, but in the opposite direction than the way subjects were led in the Milgram Experiment.
People everywhere are out of touch with morality. And even people who were loved and nurtured and hugged and kissed as children often end up living immoral, lazy lives, completely out of touch with an innate, loving ideal they are capable of referencing. Before morality comes the need to make money, to score success, to impress family, to live a life like my parent did, or like a pop star does, or like a television character lived to such success. Like life’s autopilot, our secure constructs, when we fail to question or revise them, remove our morality from our life’s equation.
This detachment of me from my morality can be seen in no small way as being due to the marginalization of morality to the religious sphere, a tired construct in its own right. Rarely in our society does any agent provide moral instruction outside a religious context- not school teachers, not supervisors at work, not even the parole officer for a violent offender does so for fear of stepping on the toes of religion.
Which reminds me of when I did just that.
When I was a probation officer in New York City’s Brooklyn bureau, I was given great latitude. As long as I had my pre-sentence investigations in on time, my supervisors paid little attention to how I conducted my investigations. In addition to banally collecting the usual information about job opportunities and family stability, however, I would always try to get outside the pre-sentence investigation box.
“Why did you go out with these friends?”
“Didn’t you know they were going to mug somebody??”
“Why didn’t you see this as your big chance to be a hero?”
“You could’ve stepped over and saved the victim. Rather than helping to beat him down, you could’ve stepped in front of him and lifted your pipe against the other members of your gang in the victim’s defense. -Then, you’d be a hero, rather than a punk in jail.”
…As you might expect, most defendants were blindsided by such questions. Completely unprepared by their lawyers (who weren’t allowed to be present,) they would sputter confused replies.
“Is it wrong to hurt another person?” I’d persist, low enough that none of my co-workers would hear over the cubicle walls.
“But if you really do believe it is wrong, why would you do it??”
“Is there some part of you that does not think hurting other people is wrong?”
He wants to be agreeable, but he knows he shouldn’t agree. He says maybe he thinks it’s right sometimes to hurt people.
Even though I filled my reports with astounding text like, “The defendant states, faced with the same instance, he would again threaten the victim with a knife,” “The defendant states he did nothing wrong in employing children to sell drugs,” and “The defendant is unwilling to pay from his own savings for restitution,” no judge ever changed a plea agreement as a consequence -not because the court ignored me, but because the court is simply illiterate to the language of morality. It is no less than taboo in our society to undertake moral instruction outside of a religious context.
But moral instruction is not only necessary for penitents, children, and criminals. Professionals, too, need moral instruction, and just as urgently. The strongest example can be made with the teaching profession. Recently, the New York Times monitored a discussion entitled “Can Teachers Be Taught to Teach Better?” While various administrators tried to argue that teachers could improve by adopting various concrete practices that can be learned in grad school, there was a stronger argument made that good teaching cannot be taught; you either have it or you don’t.
I contributed this:
A good teacher is not only a true expert in their subject area but good at communicating with inner-city kids… and highly intelligent… and emotionally intuitive… and sincere.
Though many teachers are kind, that does not stop them from being dull-witted. They may be intelligent, but selfish. They may be friendly, but foolish. Immensely knowledgeable, but easily exhausted.
Teachers need to be experts, communicators, intelligent, intuitive, sincere, kind, clever, generous, friendly, and they need an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. Think about it. Turn one of these assets to its inverse and you have a fatal flaw in teaching. Just one. A stupid teacher is worthless to a school. A selfish person, a dishonest person, a person who is emotionally needy or frigid. People with flaws like these are all around us, thriving. Teaching is one of the only careers where the professional cannot lack in one area. It just won’t work.
Say their only problem is they need affection and are not selfless enough to keep from seeking it from students in exchange for, say, homework. Or say their only problem is their parents never pulled them away from the TV, so they don’t really enjoy reading and writing…
Good teaching requires you have it all. Everyone else is a hack, and really none of them should be teachers.
I return to the Times’ question: “Can Good Teaching Be Taught?” Well, go down those assets I listed off and you will find those that seemingly cannot be taught cannot be taught because they are moral attributes, and in our society we assume morality is beyond the pale of instruction or job training. But let’s consider what would be the situation if it were not beyond the pale. Let’s say we actually believed we could secularly instruct adult teachers on morality. Let’s say we had actually developed pedagogy for morality along with that we have for the three R’s over the past 150 years of public education, and these adults had been primed morally as schoolchildren. Not only would we not assume teachers lacking in moral assets are beyond instruction, but a whole pile of those who are lacking would not be lacking and our public education would be considerably better.
And now, we can let our minds wander to just about any other profession, and it is apparent that morality is a neglected area of potential positive human development throughout our society.
Can the different religions allow for the idea that morality is a natural human trait that develops regardless of religion- that its absence is an aberration, a problem, a disorder? …That the failure of a person to reject an unloving act can be assumed to be evidence that something is dis-eased? Perhaps they were not lovingly nurtured. Maybe they have a mental disorder. Maybe they have just been poorly instructed how to identify the unloving nature of an act.
How we would respond to these realizations is uncertain.
Should schoolteachers be teaching morality?
Should parents be held accountable by courts for their failures to provide their children proper moral guidance? Or for failing to provide loving nurturance? Maybe they are away too much. How involved should our society be?
Should courts be free to alter legal stricture for the sake of a loving ideal? Should they be required to?
Should we choose to restrict the cultural expressions of film, radio, and TV to those which are good, educational, and/or productive, rather than restricting them, as the current profit-driven market does, to what is most compelling and difficult to turn the channel away from? Which of these is a more moral version of censorship?
There are myriad possibilities for introducing morality into our collective policies, and each threatens to be intrusive.
Consider this Constitutional amendment:
BILL OF MORALITY
We hold our moral code to be self-evident, that we will:
Engender in ourselves a sincere, respectful, and loving interest in our children.
Be respectful and loving towards children, ourselves and each other.
Pursue fairness as an ideal in our society.
Act in the best interests of future generations, and so work on improving our world and our relationships with others in it.
Provide for the welfare of those who are unable to provide for themselves (e.g. children, elderly, indigent, handicapped….)
Make an effort to leave past conflict behind.
Express gratitude and seek forgiveness.
Cultivate an appreciation of beauty and creative expression.
Respect our natural world and environment.
Annunciate and advocate our ideals to ourselves, our families, and our fellow world citizens.
We need such a statement of moral principals now more than ever. Our profligate unwillingness to stop squandering resources and even just to spare our attention and concern for the sake of future generations- our children- has led to a perfect storm of worldwide crises- economic, political, and environmental. By the time our morality grows strong enough to reverse our behavior, there may be too few resources left for us to be capable of realizing the ideals that love establishes.
For source/more info, see: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/can-teachers-be-taught-to-teach-better/