Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Good Place to Start

I've been thinking a lot about why so many people these days feel like it's OK to just do whatever they want, and why there's a certain moral bankruptcy that is spreading in our society.  I'm talking about both the big things, from Enron to mass shootings, to little things like cutting people off in traffic and illegal downloads.  And I'm reminded of Confucianism.

2500 years ago, Chinese society was in a similar place, with people more and more doing whatever they felt like.  They had no moral center.  And along comes this guy, basically an itinerant teacher, preaching a strange, new philosophy.  Sadly, his teachings didn't really take hold until after he died.  The emperor adopted his ideas and managed to get them to spread across the country.

Confucianism is kinda two things.  One part is some pretty basic principles and rules for how to behave.  But it also plugs everyone into a larger community by encouraging respect for your elders and devotion to your family and other societal structures.  It's not really a religion, although there is an element of praying to deceased ancestors.  Really, you can be a Confucian and a Christian.

I've long thought that community is the key to many of our society's ills.  Just imagine if farmer Bob cut off general store owner Rick in a small town in 1868.  It would be all over town, and everywhere Bob went, people would be looking at him funny and asking him why he did that.  And, really, Bob wouldn't do it in the first place, not just because of the shame, but because he would know the person he was interacting with and people generally don't do that kind of thing to people they actually know.  But today we can do these things in a vacuum. 

Of course, we all know this.  I'm not stating anything we're not all aware of.  But what to do about it?  Honestly, I don't know.  But there is a sitcom which I think is a great conversation starter and, as such, may be more important than a lot of people realize.

On The Good Place, each episode, in addition to being delightful and funny, also teaches an ethics lesson.  And one of the things that they keep coming back to is the question of Why Be Good?  Why bother?  And the answer it keeps coming back to is because of other people.  There are characters on The Good Place that struggle to be good, but being around other people - even other people who also struggle to be good - helps them.  It pulls out of them the desire to be better.

So, no, I don't have an answer.  Yet.  But I think this little show is a great conversation starter.  And it points toward at least a partial answer that is palatable even to our increasingly immoral and godless society.  Because everyone wants to connect with other people.  We just need to figure out how to facilitate it, and then have these conversations with each other about ethics.

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