Bad behavior, whether mere rudeness or criminal activity, boils down to a lack of good standards.
I don't agree with the founder of Boys Town that there's no such thing as a bad boy, but I do believe that no child is born bad. Children come into this world as a blank slate. They don't know who they are, where they are, what color they are or how they should behave. All of that they must learn, and it is what they learn that determines their behavior.
It's obvious that standards of behavior, appearance and speech have declined in this country. Despite all the baloney peddled by feminists, many women still desire to be sex objects. Women don't go to plastic surgeons or to Victoria's Secret to improve their minds. Check out the covers of the women's magazines at the supermarket. The articles are mostly about sex and attracting the male. Some parents even dress their young children as sex objects.
The lyrics of many popular songs and the dialogue in television shows, movies and even on talk radio are laced with vulgarities. All of these things have an impact on behavior. What seems to be happening is that we are reverting to barbarism. We've even come to accept as "normal" armed policemen stationed in schools. That alone says a great deal about the degeneration of our society.
Of course, we have to be careful to distinguish between reality and the false reality that is presented in the media. Most local television news shows are mere collections of random crimes that have occurred. Watching that stuff on a daily basis can give a false impression of the community, since the overwhelming majority of the people are neither victims nor criminals.
In fact, one of the things that have gone wrong for us is that normal people have become virtually invisible. You won't find them on the evening news or among the exhibitionists on YouTube. If you let yourself get addicted to television and the Internet, it's easy to believe they no longer even exist.
I know that there has always been an underside of society no matter what the age or era, but I also know that there were once much higher standards in America. People once cared how they looked. Streets were once safe for children. Vulgarities in print and on film weren't tolerated. I remember my own childhood, when it seemed that the totality of my parents' conversation directed at me was in the form of correction and instruction. I lived with a lot of "don'ts" and switches when I was a little guy.
Years ago, I read an article in which the author said that science had killed religion and that the problem of the 20th century would be to find something to replace it. I think that's true, and I think we still haven't found a substitute. What he was talking about was not ritual or dogma, but a culture permeated with religious values. That's what missing in America today, despite the lip service paid to religion.
A person's religion ought to be visible in even casual association, not because of anything he or she says, but because of how he or she acts. I know it will surprise many Americans, but there is a great deal less crime in Muslim countries. There may be political violence, but neighborhoods are generally safe because most Muslims haven't yet lost their faith.
I wandered about lost in a Cairo, Egypt, slum some years ago late at night, but no one bothered me. I wouldn't want to wander about in any American slum, even in daylight. Behavior is guided by a set of beliefs, even if they are adopted unconsciously. It matters a great deal what people believe.
April 15, 2008
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.