Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Even before I studied moral theology in college, I had a thorough understanding of right and wrong (not that I always applied it) because my mother never missed an occasion to enlighten us about how she expected us to behave. And it was far more entertaining than lectures on Thomas Aquinas and Alphonsus Liguori.

She never hesitated to tell the world what she thought. She was sort of a Rush Limbaugh with a dustpan and broom, without the $35 million salary. In fact, she would usually sit in judgment of society based on the daily headlines in the newspaper.

"That Senator should be kicked out of office for taking those gifts. What the heck is wrong with this country?"

"It’s disgusting the way these Hollywood people live, and then we idolize them!"

"Didn’t these Congressmen ever hear of the Ten Commandments!?!?!"

And on a more personal note, she never passed up an opportunity to set me straight:

"You copied his Latin homework? That’s cheating! Tear it up and do it yourself."

"STOP!!! You’re going through that red light! Those lights turn red for a reason!"

You get the idea.

Even though she quit high school during the Depression to work at Kresge’s five-and-dime to support her family, she should have studied Kant and Aristotle. The Ten Commandments, of course, seemed to suit her just fine, and whenever we were disrespectful, we had to get a lecture about the Fourth: "Honor thy father and mother." Or as she put it: "Honor thy mother and father."

To her, morality came easily. Life was black and white with no shades of gray. Now, of course, we live in a culture that says there’s only gray, which is often nothing more than a convenient excuse for avoiding the right choice. Moral relativism is everywhere and, even worse, we are a society suffering from amorality, inspired in large part by our worship of celebrities who believe that illicit sex, drug use, greed and lying are a perfectly fine way of life.

Many of us sense that something is seriously amiss, and 75 percent of Americans think our country’s moral compass is pointed in the wrong direction, but we either don’t know what to do about it or we don’t want to do anything about it.

It seems that people no longer trust legislators, journalists, lawyers, bankers and countless other professionals whose reputations were once founded on trust and ethical behavior.

In a desperate attempt to stem the tide, high schools and colleges offer courses in business ethics and character education to compensate for our moral deficiencies by trying to teach values that came naturally to previous generations who knew the difference between right and wrong and tried to do what was right based on the simple regimen given to us in the Ten Commandments.

We need more ethical men and women who aren’t afraid to stand up and say, "That’s wrong!" despite opposition and peer pressure and concern about their careers; however, too many people succumb to the temptation called "compartmentalization" and apply different values at home than on the job.

The good news is the next generation seems to have a moral gyroscope that works. A recent poll by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion showed that almost nine in 10 members of the Millennial Generation – those 80 million young people born between 1981 and 2000 – believe people apply a different set of ethical standards in their business dealings than in their personal lives. And two-thirds disapprove of that practice. At the same time, almost eight in 10 say that business decisions motivated by greed are morally wrong.

Whenever I read about a scandal that occurred because people at the top looked the other way or encouraged malfeasance, I think of Mom and all that pestering about doing the right thing.

She would always say, "If everyone else jumps off the bridge, are you going to jump too?"

"No," I’d reply, "But what if someone pushes me?"

"Push back."

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.