Archive for January, 2015

Living A Moral Life

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

I think the phrase “living in a more innocent time” is biased.

Those who be-bopped in the 1940’s might reminisce of an era when daily life was centered on one’s immediate neighborhood, and a view of the world remained unfiltered through the tube of a television set.

For those who grew up in the 1980’s, living it “old school” might refer to relief from disco music and a world before everyone was surgically tethered to their mobile devices.

For Baby Boomers like me who grew-up in the ’50’s and early ’60’s, for the most part it was a time of button-down shirts and “follow the established path”.  The message I got from my Mom and Step-Father was: “Study hard, get good grades, go to college – and more than anything else – be a good person. Stay focused and maintain a high moral standard and you’ll be a success in life.”

As a child I doubt that I entirely understood their criteria, but today if I had to guess a list of the components in their definition of high moral standards, I think it might look something like this:

1) Act With Integrity – I should be fair, tell the truth, not cheat anyone, complete the tasks laid out for me, and do what I know is right.

2) Be Responsible – pay my bills, work in a manner which lets others know I’m reliable and dependable, follow through and recognize that my actions effect others.

3) Be Kind – understand that, despite my surprise, the world doesn’t just revolve around me. I should give others a chance, and whenever possible create an environment in which they can flourish and succeed. Instead of taking someone hostage in a conversation talking only about myself and my troubles, instead I can be a good listener as well as an effective communicator. Most of all, I should remember that empathy, giving of my time and being of service are the most inexpensive, yet most invaluable gifts I can offer to anyone.

4) Respect My Relationships – I don’t get to hurt people for the sake of my own momentary gratification.  I should acknowledge my opportunities for physical interaction, but not act on every impulse just because I have it.

5) Be My Own Version Of “Courageous” – not the comic book variety, but seize real life opportunities to voice my opinions, help others who can use a hand, and find strength to walk through my life’s challenges even when I think I can’t, and..

6) Be Grateful – even when I feel like I’ve got less than someone else, because in reality I’ve probably got more than my share.

But in truth, from my vantage point today, I know that life isn’t always as clear cut as just following the rules; our lives are rarely the straight lines our parents hoped they’d be.

At this second decade of the twenty-first century, in the midst of a technological revolution which creates miracles of communication and improvement in virtually every arena of our lives – along with all the marvels has come an undeniable, unprecedented blur of the necessity of living by a strong moral code.

Where we used to only occasionally see on television or read in newspapers of the ill-gotten rewards of others of lesser moral standards, today those people and their greed are thrust in front of us twenty-four hours a day on our phones, tablets and 70″ 4K bigger-than-life screens.

We see self-serving politicians and liars and cheaters of every variety amassing financial fortunes and throwing it in our faces – either gloating in their riches or cajoling us to join them with messages of “screw the other guy – let me teach you my shortcuts and you’ll live like I do – for a small one-time fee of $299 plus shipping charges.”

More and more, vulgarity, violence, ridicule and immorality seem to be the order of the day. Kim Kardashian, a woman who has risen to fame solely on the basis of horrific personal choices, has 27.5 million followers on Twitter. We shudder to think how many of them are young people who read her worst-of-all-possible-role-model thoughts every hour, and are influenced by her absentee values and misguided actions every single day.

And via today’s films, courage is often portrayed as oafish slackers bucking the system or cartoonish, tattooed Tough Guys and Tough Girls serving-up portions of indiscriminate violence and deafening explosions, blowing-up everything in sight – no matter how defenseless or sacred the targets – with an inevitable final scene showing utter hopelessness and facing “the end of the world as we know it”.

And saddest of all, personal dignity and potentially meaningful relationships are under assault. Insidious, deceptively casual terms like “hooking-up” and “friends with benefits” not only tell young women they shouldn’t hold onto the precious gift of giving themselves, but are expected not to do so. It’s no longer a question of “Should I?”, but instead “Am I going to do it tonight or wait all the way until tomorrow?”

And for those in committed relationships, there’s foul-mouthed talk show hosts on satellite radio promoting websites which enable married men and women to more easily become serial adulterers.

So the question becomes “What does living a moral life in today’s society look like?” and more importantly, “Why should I bother?”

Lest I paint myself a hypocrite, I’m no prude.  I’m a musician – how could I be? And I’m also no expert. I’m neither a sociologist nor clergy, and I can’t tell you where in the Bible it says how we should conduct ourselves in 2015.  To tell you the truth, in the last few weeks, knowing I was going to speak on this topic to my synagogue congregation, I struggled for an answer.

Surprisingly, I found the jumping-off point for my resolution in, of all places, social media.

I found it on Facebook.

As I was reading the other day, I began to realize that for every post advocating some kind of dehumanizing something-or-other, there are fifty posts instead celebrating the goodness of life:

A young father’s video of his son hitting his first home run…  a gifted photographer showing a picture of a Colorado sunset that she took and edited on her phone. Slogan after slogan from one person after another talking about encouragement, insight and valuing the sanctity of every day of our precious lives… and a hundred birthday wishes to a guy who maybe needs to be reminded that so many people are glad he’s around.

A video of a seventy-year-old war veteran flying in formation at a festival, with his son in the next plane over.. a woman bravely battling cancer sharing her view from her room in the hospital.

And a daughter proudly showing pictures every day of her eight-month-old twin boys, so a Grandpa three thousand miles away and all his friends can see that God, in His Almighty wisdom, has given her the healing gift of being the spectacular mother she was clearly meant to be.

And there it was, there was that word: “God”.

I almost forgot.

Whether it’s 1945 or 2015, I believe God’s still here. No matter how disagreeable the actions of others or how much they’re thrown in my face, I believe that God’s still with me –  and the better life I live, the closer I get to stay to Him.

I shouldn’t need to be reminded that real courage starts with taking the high road and surviving life’s toughest challenges – not with the size of an actor’s bicep or some depressed screenwriter’s imagination.

And I have to remember that every generation of kids have undue influences thrown at them – and yet somehow God watches over them and most of them somehow miraculously survive.

And the temptations of sleazy websites are really nothing new: opportunities for husbands and wives to violate the sanctity of their marriages have always been there and always will be.  It’s always gonna depend on their individual devotion to their families and willingness to do the right thing.

In all my fretting about the world at large, I guess I’m never too old to be reminded that my parents were right: acting with integrity, being responsible, being kind, respecting my relationships and being my own personal version of “courageous” and “grateful” will, in the end, always be everything that they’re cracked-up to be.

Thank you, God for the reminder.