by Joanie Butman
If there is any doubt that the world needs a reminder to choose wisely, one need only look at the news headlines, which herald one bad decision after another. Nothing sells newspapers better than a story about someone else’s social demise. Sadly, I think it appeals to a base human instinct that revels in seeing others screw up. I suppose it makes us feel better about our own transgressions. It’s tempting to feel morally superior when a person disgraces themself publicly. Honestly, who hasn’t entertained this thought on occasion: “At least I’ve never done that!” As if the list of offenses I have committed isn’t longer than Santa’s Naughty and Nice list.
As I said, you don’t have to look beyond the headlines to get a hefty dose of unwise choices. Football player blows his finger off with fireworks, teen dies after setting off a rocket on his head, Donald Trump enters the Presidential race, or the most recent – the Ashley Madison hacking scandal. Personally, the security breach isn’t what I found so appalling. The existence of a website with a tag line that suggests, “Life is short. Have an affair.” is deplorable. On what planet could having an affair (never mind a ‘planned’ one) be considered a wise choice?
What’s even more shocking is that they boast over 37 million customers – including members of the Vatican! It was disclosed today that “there are precisely three ZIP codes across the country that have no record of Ashley Madison users.” Two of them are in Alaska and one in New Mexico. All of them have populations less than 275 and surprise – no internet.
Now, the same people who thought it was a good idea to enroll in this adulterous match system are horrified by the hackers’ malicious motives and lack of decency in revealing their identities. They’re not sorry they used the site or had an affair, just that they got caught. Clearly, they didn’t consider the potential consequences involved before they chose to register.Already there have been two suicides attributed to the incident along with numerous cases of extortion. No one knows what the eventual fallout will be. Bad decisions always come with a cost, and it’s usually higher than anticipated.
It’s ironic. When the Choose Wisely effort was initiated three years ago as a platform to encourage others to consider the impact of their choices, many naysayers couldn’t understand our mission and found the Choosewisely name confusing. Perhaps if we’d used Don’t Be An Idiot it would have been clearer. There was so much doubt about our effort that I started to question it myself. It seemed obvious to me. As an adolescent, when my mother called after me “make good choices!” she didn’t need to explain. Intuitively, I understood. After seeing Ashley Madison’s slogan and the breadth of its influence, I realize this is exactly why our message needs to be front and center and just as bold as theirs. Our choices DO matter and have a more far-reaching impact than we realize!
The sad fact is that for the first time in America’s history we have lost our true north. The moral compass we have relied on for so long no longer exists - namely, the Judeo-Christian values on which this country was formed. Today, individuals create their own worldviews and moral authority by picking and choosing amongst the vast smorgasbord of theologies available. Some refer to it as ‘cafeteria theology.’ Judging from Ashley Madison’s popularity, there’s a shared worldview out there that doesn’t recognize the immorality of encouraging affairs or having one.
In the book, The Road to Character, David Brooks discusses the loss of moral traditions on which previous generations based their behavior. He claims,
“Sin is a necessary piece of our mental furniture because it reminds us that life is a moral affair. No matter how hard we strive to replace sin with nonmoral words, like mistake or error or weakness, the most essential part of life are matters of individual responsibility and moral choice: whether to be brave or cowardly, honest or deceitful, compassionate or callous, faithful or disloyal. When modern culture tries to replace sin with ideas like error or insensitivity, or tries to banish words like virtue, character, evil and vice altogether, that doesn’t make life any less moral; it just means we have obscured the inescapable moral core of life with shallow language. It just means we think and talk about these choices less clearly, and thus become increasingly blind to the moral stakes of everyday life.”
In this climate of moral uncertainty, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves that our choices have infinite impact on us, our families, our communities, and our world. We need to stop the insanity and recalibrate our true north.
P.S. I highly recommend reading The Road to Character to learn more about the moral shift in this country.