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When bad was bad and we knew it

When bad was bad and we knew it
When bad was bad and we knew it
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
Viewpoint of Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]

Behaviors used to be much more clearly defined. As a society, there was agreement as to which things were bad. Some behaviors used to be unacceptable. Period. It didn’t matter who your parents were, if you were a prominent business owner or a “good” kid. Oh, sure, people still tried to use their influence to get out of whatever trouble they’d put themselves in; that will never change. But, the rest of us — those of us on the outside looking in — could agree that what had happened went beyond the boundary. Some things were just plain wrong no matter who you were.

We are light years from those days. I’m just not sure how we fell so far so fast.

Today, it seems no matter how atrocious the action, there’s an explanation. Let’s be honest here. It’s not an explanation; it’s an excuse, only we don’t call it that anymore. There’s no bad decision or action that can’t be justified in today’s world.

It’s a very dangerous trend.

I’ve thought a lot about this recently, given the negative actions by so many of those in positions of power and authority, people who should set the example for the rest of us to follow, but who let us down with poor judgment and bad decisions. And when they’re caught, they point the finger, blaming everyone else except themselves.

How did we get here?

Is part of the problem that we’ve lost our closeness, even in small towns?

Not so very long ago, people lived and worked in the same place. People knew their neighbors. They visited with them. People were involved in clubs and organizations; almost everyone went to church each Sunday.

Today, not only is it a given that both parents work outside the home, but in many cases both travel out of the county to their jobs. Nobody has time to visit their relatives, let alone neighbors. We don’t know each other.

Friends and neighbors used to look out for each other. Adults expected other adults to correct their children if they misbehaved, to hold them accountable if the parent wasn’t present. Not today. Try that and you’ll get an earful from the parent who A) thinks their child can do no wrong and/or B) believes “nobody but me better tell my kid what to do.”

Is one of the issues that kids have become the boss?

Parents today are more meaningfully involved with their children than ever before, but most of us only feel guilt about all we don’t do.

Kids are masters at capitalizing parental guilt. My own kids have done it. More than once I’ve found myself apologizing to them for some perceived shortfall of my own. That’s not good.

I can’t remember my parents ever apologizing to me because they didn’t do enough for us. That was unheard of. Parents worked hard to provide for their families and somehow, it seems, kids recognized this. While we went on vacations and did fun things, in no way did my parents see it as their responsibility to entertain us. We found our own fun most days.

I’ve toughened up in the last couple of years. I explain to our kids that they are not living in a democracy. They do not have equal rights, and they do not make the rules. Their dad and I — not them — are the bosses.

Does the “everyone’s a winner” mentality figure in?

I would say 100% on this one. My son Hays once took part in a little miss and master pageant. He bombed. He wandered around on stage, didn’t look at the judges, did nothing to “sell” himself. He did not deserve to win, and he didn’t. Yet, he and all the others were paraded out on stage at the conclusion and presented a trophy because “They’re all winners!” according to the organizer.

No, I explained to him afterward, he did not win. It didn’t matter to me that he didn’t, but I wanted him to understand you have to actually do something to earn a reward. There are clear winners and losers in life, and the sooner you realize this the better.

Does the “good person” mantra have a bearing?

Again, absolutely, in my opinion. No matter how terrible the action, you’ll hear someone say: “But he/she’s a really good person.”

I’m split on this one. Really good people do make terrible mistakes. But, at some point, after repeated bad decisions or a single horrible decision, can you honestly believe someone still fits the definition of a “really good person?” If said person honestly owns up to their wrongdoing and does his/her best to make amends, then I’d say yes or at least a strong maybe. That’s not usually what happens. The “explanations” start and, well, here we are, far from where we used to be.

I’m not going to hold out a lot of hope for big change. Change, even positive change, is painful and uncomfortable. Plus, given that many people don’t see any need to change, it’s unlikely to happen on any large scale.

But, I also know that all change begins with a single decision, with one person believing the current reality isn’t ideal and deciding to do something different. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That ancient Chinese proverb still holds true today.

Will 2020 be the year some of us — any of us — decide to take a step in a different direction?