We let children grow up seeing the most grotesque forms of violence in video games, cartoons and movies — beheadings,mutilations– and yetitcauses a national uproar when for a few seconds an actress’ breast is exposed on TV, that is, the body part where mother’s milk comes from.
Whether on the sports field or on the street, trivial arguments wind up in fistfights or worse, and dozens join in. We speak horribly to each other in stores, in restaurants, in travel, and then wonder why our country drops to 7th in competitiveness because we no longer give each other our best ideas.
We solve our problems by conflict in almost every aspect of our lives -families, business, politics, social settings, and everyone seems to think it’s OK. “Tude,” for “attitude,” for being rude to others, is considered cool. There are whole TV shows about it. The most visible role models fight other people to vanquish them. And then we wonder why confused people think it’s OK to kill children.
We kick people off planes with odd clothes and accents but forget that most big crimes are committed by those who look and speak just like us, taught by our own culture of violence and conflict. We’ve killed or exploited so many innocent people abroad, and wonder why others retaliate against us. Trillions of dollars that could be used for our own progress is wasted on wars we could have solved in other ways.
It is not necessary for our enemies to beat us. We are beating ourselves. We cannot even agree on a set of national priorities that helps most citizens, and we cannot even agree on how to best spend our limited funds. We are going over a cliff and are too busy bickering about it to put on the brakes or swerve out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, rich people steal billions of dollars from those scraping by and financial institutions mislead us all and it’s treated as an intellectual exercise for policy discussion. In other words, hateful behavior might somehow be OK, or OK enough to debate about it.
We are capable of so much that is great, in the arts, in science, in human relations, but it is all but drowned out because we can no longer judge right from wrong. We tolerate a system that once would never have been acceptable. When the history of our civilization is finally written, it will say that we deserved what we got, we reaped what we sowed. Because, ultimately, when things went bad, there were not enough good men and women who stood up, at whatever personal effort,and said, ENOUGH!
Stuart Diamond is the author of Getting More (Random House/Three Rivers Press, 2012), a collaborative way of human interaction. He teaches at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
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