Moral Super Heroes

Superman is my son’s favourite superhero because he is the leader and he is the strongest. Or so he says.

“But he doesn’t show up for work.”

“Well only when he is catching bad guys and doing more important things. Metropolis would be toast without him.”

“Oh, well that’s okay then.”

“Yeah... isn’t it?”

There comes a time when most children will ask: Do you always have to tell the truth?

And the response will inevitably be: To your parents, yes, you must always tell the truth.

“Is it always bad to lie? “

“As a rule, yes. But, sometimes, if telling the truth is going to be hurtful, AND the consequences of telling the lie are trivial then you might tell a lie.”

“And do you always have to follow the rules?” So many questions!

As every good partner knows, it is hard to field the question: “Does this outfit make me look fat?” without wading into shallow pools of deceit.

Truth, rules, responsible citizenship. Does any of it make a difference to a healthy community? Now that I am raising two children I have to ask myself which of these values are most important? And I have come to the conclusion it’s not the rules.

When Barack Obama was trying to move his country forward in light of the financial crisis he told them to it would be necessary to start to ask of our corporate citizens, not merely is this venture profitable, but is it right? Rules are created in the hopes of protecting the community to which they apply. But they do not necessarily encourage citizens to do the right thing. In fact, they do the opposite - they remove the moral responsibility away from an individual. Rules can be bad for morale, not to mention disastrous for morality. What a community needs from our children is the ability to tell right from wrong, not read the rules and proceed to mistreat people, animals, or the earth simply because nowhere does it say it is illegal to do so. Particularly at this point in history when the earth still has no rights.

Policies and procedures are popping up for anything and everything for the sole purpose of avoiding disaster and legal action. Maybe they successfully achieve that goal. At our hospital we have a policy on death and dying. I am not sure what the penalty is for failing to follow procedure.

Luckily, hidden among us, are people quietly going about making the world a better place. They do so because it is the right thing to do. Not because it is listed in their job description.

If you ask a custodian or kitchen staff of a hospital or school if their job is a difficult one, they might tell you that it takes a lot of experience. I can assure you they are not talking about mopping the floor. They are talking about the decisions they make when presented with the opportunity to make life better for someone. To close a blind, to say the right thing. They are talking about the moral highway. Because you can be sure, unlike their counterparts on Wall Street, they receive no bonus for helping the sick get better, or nudging a child onto a straighter path.

My son likes to go to school. He shows me all kinds of tricks he has learned to remember what he needs to know. I am not exactly sure what goes on during those seven hours but I have faith in his teacher that she is good at what she does. I hope that she is given enough creative independence that she also likes going to school. There are certain North American school boards that require teachers to follow a detailed script for every moment they are in the classroom, from how to introduce themselves, to how to introduce the book being read, to the conclusions that should be drawn. These highly specific educational curriculum are dangerous, if not downright disrespectful, as they make the assumption that a teacher is not a capable educator and therefore requires a script for everything they teach. The end result is standardized mediocrity. And an enormous loss of wisdom for our community. Our children’s response is more like to be: “what? I have to go to go to kindergarten again? I went yesterday.” I suspect in such an environment the educators are saying the same thing.

If we are constantly telling our citizens, present and future, what to do and when to do it, we will lose the opportunity to develop collective wisdom. What makes a community strong is character: the courage and integrity to do the right thing, and wisdom: the ability to know right from wrong. What we need are a few moral super heroes.