How do we feel when we cross the line from right to wrong?

Another Voice


Special to the News

Doesn’t it seem there have been a lot of scandals lately? Martha Stewert, Enron, The Nature Conservancy, Bill Bennett, Laci Peterson, a Vancouver school principal, the Catholic priests, school coaches, etc. etc. The widespread looting in Iraq raised a lot of eyebrows. This is an area of the world that often points an accusing finger at the lack of morals of the West. But is that really so different from the thoughts of us in the West?

Most everyone feels they are a good person most of the time if no issue of shame or legal proceedings are annoying him or her at the moment. But that is the very time when we are so quick to make issues of the failings of others. But is that really good for us to do? The line that divides right and wrong is not just a law that is written on paper and enforced by whoever happens to be in power. It is a line that is engraved on each and every human sentient heart. There are some things we just “can’t not know.”

So what are some of the things we just “can’t not know”? that are so written on the heart? On the light side we could include selfishness, conceit, lying, greed and the such up to the more serious things such as stealing, shedding innocent blood, sexual abuse of children, cruelty, cowardice, and things similar are found to be wrong in all cultures. They might even be called objective by some. Yet that which we know as wrong is sometimes what we do. The little white lies, a bit of hurtful gossip, a fudging of the rules or something more dramatic that demands civil justice.

All of us have crossed that line of right and wrong. From our first selfish act as a child to the greed and hate we sometimes feel as adults. When we cross that line in our heart, just a little, we hurt those around us; we cross it a lot then we seek jail time. How hard we hold ourselves accountable determines our strength of character. Yet we all have times of weakness; from Mother Teresa to Hitler no one is exempt. Our strength of character is not rock solid, as we would like to believe. It is fluid with times of weakness. How do we treat those around us when they fail?

Let’s say a man had a moral failure that hurt those around him. One of his friends spread gossip about him and made him out to be a monster. A second friend kept up a civil relationship with him and never mentioned the failure. The last friend in a loving manner helped him back to a path that strengthened him in the area of his life he failed in to help avoid the same failure in the future. So which friend do you say was the real friend of this man?

To make ourselves feel better by gloating over those who have recently faulted seems to be the path that we mostly take. A quick glance of daytime TV talk shows exemplifies this. A true loving friend resists this path.

What as a nation can we do more to combat this portion of human nature? Not very much! This is and always will be an issue of the individual heart. But there is something that the nation can do and it will not require a single new law, not a single tax dollar spent. Simply embrace some awareness.

C.S Lewis wrote During World War II that England mocked honor and was surprised to find traitors in its midst. We could say today that we mock morals and are surprised to find our car broken in to. That awareness is that when we mock morals or honor or any other strength of character we may just reap the logical progression from the absence of those character traits. But lest we forget that when we get to high and mighty in promoting morals we lose the ability to help those who fall short (which we all do) in a loving manner.

Nearly 400 years ago John Bunyan wrote in “The Pilgrim’s Progress”: “let us not flatter ourselves with thoughts of our own boldness, prowess, or power for those who do this fall hardest under trial. Nor boast as if we could do better then another when we hear of their failings.” The easy road here is to vilify. The higher harder road is to provide restorative love.


Dave Ryan lives in Hood River.

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