Last week, during a class, my professor asked the question, “what will we be ashamed of years down the road?” He indicated that as journalists, part of our role in society is to point out what kinds of horrible things people might be doing right now.
This was not the first time this thought had entered my mind, but interestingly enough, it was the first time it was articulated so suitably to the likes of my profession of choice.
I might have my head in the clouds with ideas of changing the world, but can you really blame me? My head’s in the clouds!
And for good reason – I have history on my side. With a quick glance into the past, I think it’s fair to say that things, humans particularly, have gotten better. We’ve made progress. Sure, we say things like “kids these days,” and scoff at new, hairbrained ideas about how to live in the world, but really, our actions say that we think we’ve come somewhere – and we’re going somewhere.
Think about progress on a very human scale.
These days, I think it’s fairly reasonable to say that enslaving or exterminating an entire ethnicity or race of humans is wrong.
I don’t think many people would disagree with me, but I am speaking from a very privileged position in the world, in which I face hardly any unfair or contrived obstacles (that I am aware of). I’m also very privileged to be educated, and surrounded by educated people almost all of the time.
Still, there are some basic things that our thinking, remembering, collective conscience – read: culture – can agree on. An easy litmus test is opening a newspaper. When you read about natural disaster or death, it is perfectly acceptable and expected that headlines will describe such occurrences as “tragic,” “devastating,” or just plain “sad.”
To us, these events are obviously bad. We don’t question the media’s handling of these circumstances because it’s very clear that they should be treated as tradegies.
So we are capable of determining right from wrong. But some things aren’t obviously one or the other.
Potential GOP candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in January that “Roe v. Wade is nothing but a shameful footnote in our nation’s history books.”
Perry took a highly-debated topic, abortion, and threw it years into the future. While hairs split in every direction on this complex issue now, he is imagining that at some point, our thinking about a topic like abortion will have coalesced into some kind of agreement.
If he is right about what our attitude will be is not the point of why I bring it up. The conversation isn’t as easy as whether or not the procedure should be performed. It actually hearkens back to very deep, personal questions that can be asked from different angles. For some, the problem is figuring out what life is. Then, we might be able to ask if taking another life is OK. To what extent? Under what circumstances?
Most issues can be boiled down to really basic questions about how we should choose to operate in the world and in relation to other beings.
There are thousands of issues like abortion, for which the jury is not, figuratively, out yet. While I can’t with certainty say whether or not our culture’s attitude toward abortion will be shame, acceptance or something entirely different, I think there is an unequivocal answer, even if it’s tough. I think that Perry is right in thinking we will have a definitive attitude toward it some day.
As I’ve said, we’ve done so already, with things like slavery and women’s rights. Our treatment of groups may not be perfect, but in general, we have changed our behavior. And we can do it again.
If you think hard enough, there are probably some attitudes and behaviors that people accept that you cringe just a little about. Maybe we will be kicking ourselves for them in the future.
I’d be willing to say that my kids’ kids will think I was among fools who denied a community of people the right to love one another. How could we have looked young people in the eyes, one after another, and sent them messages of hate and derogatory words? I’m already embarrassed and New York state only started allowing gays to marry mere months ago. As if we should have had the power to withhold anyone a celebration of their relationship to begin with.
I am frustrated by language that enforces gender (and, of course, other) stereotypes. Take this USAToday article aimed at female college students. In case we forget, the article reminds women in America that our universities are actually finishing schools. Of course, because all I wanted to do when I got to Geneseo four years ago was hook up with multiple dudes, in hopes that one would like me! Forget advice on classes. Nevermind time management. who needs extra-curriculars? (If you follow the link at the bottom, the rest of the list is somewhat better.)
USAToday can do better. We can do better. At least I can do better. I don’t have to struggle to eat or stay warm. I have a lot of free time, really. I have time to make progress.
I’m not really saying anything novel here. We try to do better every day. It is fundamentally what motivates us. Our lives are centered around the idea that we can figure out how to be happy, and we have some control over it (we do – don’t let anyone tell you any differently). If you honestly didn’t believe on some level that your existence can mean progress – betterment – you wouldn’t get up in the morning and do whatever you do when you get up in the morning. You do have a choice, after all. You chose to read this, didn’t you?