“The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”~Albert Schweitzer.
My father-in-law was a simple man. His wife died and left him with four young kids, and he raised them in the old-fashioned Jamaican way, sure that firm discipline and education were essential to a good upbringing. When he felt there had been an infraction of his rules (with or without hard evidence), he would punish all, sure in the knowledge that he would get the guilty party; and if innocent bystanders were caught up in his wrath, oh well. He was also a firm believer in eye contact. “Look me inna mi eye!” he would insist, whether he was interrogating perpetrators, or merely telling his grandchildren one of his ‘family stories’. That way he would know they were listening. He had clear ideas of wrong and right, and could not tolerate liars.
One of my favorite sources of information is NPR, the public radio station that informs and entertains, often introducing the stories of peoples whose lives are far different from my own. This week alone I have heard about the tragedy of gun violence, and the long-lasting effects it has on the lives of the young, even if they are survivors. I have listened to the first hand stories of people who have lived for over 25 years in refugee camps, people who own nothing and long for nothing but a home. I rely on the journalists to do the research; to check the sources; to look people in the eye for me and inform me on the lives of others.
It must be hard to be a member of a profession that is unpopular, or thought to have no integrity. Lawyers have often been the punch line of jokes, despite the fact that they are required to swear an oath to uphold the law. And when we are in trouble, all of a sudden we value their work. Nurses have a far different reputation. For the past 15 years nursing has topped the list of professions thought to have the most integrity, according to a Gallup Poll. Other professions fall far lower on the list: last year members of Congress were at the bottom; lawyers and journalists fell somewhere in the middle. But when answering a survey like that, on what do we base our responses? Do we have hard evidence supporting our opinions? Often we are quick to believe stories that support our own biases. We get our news from facebook, hear anecdotes about individual experiences and draw our own conclusions.
At a time when we are bombarded with facts and ‘alternative facts’ how are we supposed to discern truth from falsehood? When we cannot look our leaders in the eye to try to read their true intentions, how can we know who to trust? I have been feeling sorry for the ‘media’ recently, as they are the ones that have been turned into the enemy. How do you get up and do your job when your profession is so maligned? How do you convince a doubting public that you are telling the truth, when there are other sources that are doing a great job of spreading misinformation? And what responsibility does the public have to do our own research, to distinguish fact from fiction?
The most impressive thing that has come out of the past few weeks in American life is the outpouring of resistance, of public demonstrations of empathy and compassion for others. One of my favorite investigative journalists reported on a public display of solidarity for Muslims which took place in Texas (yes, Texas) this week. Thousands (non-Muslims) turned out to ensure that an event celebrating people of Muslim faith could proceed without interruption or attack, as it had been 2 years ago. In Physics there is a law about equal and opposite reactions, but we have seen reactions that seem to be far more powerful than the actions which provoked them. We can only hope that these public displays of conscience will in the end lead to a better society, one which truly cares for its fellow man.
We have a responsibility as citizens to hold ourselves and others to high standards of ethics and integrity, but also to try to imagine the lives of others. As I have heard ‘the media’ cast in the role of villain, I have wondered what that does to the individual journalist, to their morale. How does it feel to think that the story you have researched and investigated is treated as ‘fake news’? And how do you fight those who have no morals, who have no problem spreading lies and misinformation?
There have been references recently to George Orwell, the author who wrote of a future world where words were used to disguise truths. We have heard torture described as ‘enhanced interrogation’, lies spoken of as ‘alternative facts’. It is up to each one of us to be sure that we are reading between the lines to decipher the truth. We need to keep our eye on the ball despite the many distractions, the brightly colored displays designed to divert us from what is really going on beneath the surface. We need those journalists to probe and expose and keep us informed, even as they are being treated like outcasts.
On this Friday morning I hope you are finding signs of hope and encouragement in these uncertain times. I hope you are supporting those whose jobs are not popular but are necessary to the wellbeing of society. I hope you are becoming more informed about the intentions of your local politicians, and holding them accountable for their actions. And if possible, look them in the eye!
Have a wonderful weekend Family!