Charles: MIA: Integrity, empathy, common sense

When I was a Sunday School teacher a few years ago, I posed this scenario to my students, who were elementary to junior high-aged — “You didn’t study for an important test last night. It counts as a big part of your grade. Now, there’s a way to cheat, and pass. You won’t get caught, but it’s still cheating. What do you do?”

Of course the question is really about integrity. It’s about who you are, and who you want to be. Do you own up to the fact that you weren’t responsible, and suffer the consequences, or do you cheat, knowing only you will know the truth?

The question was especially intriguing to our pastor at the time, who admitted to having that exact scenario happen during school. The pastor cheated — and got away with it — but it still weighed heavily enough to confess it to me years later.

The last few weeks (months, years) haven’t so much highlighted our political divide, as it has our integrity divide.

We — all of us — are more tolerant of people we agree with and most intolerant of those we don’t.

When President Bill Clinton went through impeachment hearings — for lying to Congress about his affair with a White House intern only a few years older than his daughter — Democrats were quick to vilify the young woman, who although bore some responsibility, was also caught up in an unimaginable abuse of power by the most powerful man in the country.

I sympathized with this man’s wife, who also was caught in the worst dilemma. Had she left this cheating man, who humiliated her on the world stage, there were factions who would have blamed her for not living up to her marital vows. She stayed, and she was also vilified for staying. No one knows what goes on in a couple’s marriage, but there were plenty of people who weighed in, and sought, years later, to hold her accountable for his misdeeds.

Now that the preliminary summary of Robert Mueller’s report claims not to find the smoking gun of scheming with Russia in its interference with the 2016 election, people are either gleeful, or in despair.

I’m neither. The allegations of crime and malfeasance from this administration haven’t been erased. There is no exoneration. But the problems in our country go much deeper than the multitudes of criminal investigations — those ongoing, and those still to come.

The problem is we really don’t care if someone is a criminal if that person, or party, or affiliation, is on our side.

We only want to hold “those on the other side” accountable.

Before you get too apoplectic, think about your favorite sports teams.

If your team is one that wins all the time, but has had to answer questions about fair play and integrity, do you shrug, look the other way from deflated balls, stolen signals, etc.? Is the win more important?

There was a time when teams could line up and shake hands and say “good game.” They did it from the time they were children, learning that sportsmanship is key: Not the trash-talking, taunting, or insults from fans. But by the time the game is a business, our sense of sportsmanship, for the most part, evaporates.

Fans believe their price of a ticket entitles them to behave like jackasses in the stands — even if the players are still kids.

Also missing in action is our empathy gene.

We don’t care about the people who aren’t us. Not those who don’t look like us — who aren’t us.

All of our children, all of them, are being traumatized by having to learn active shooter drills at one of the places they should feel safe — their schools.

These aren’t the mild fire drills where you got to line up and go outside for a few minutes, which may get you out of that test you didn’t study for. Some of my contemporaries remember hiding under their desks for nuclear bomb drills when they were younger, although I never had to do that. Not that it would have done any good anyway.

No, the drills these days are the ones in which children are taught to pile up desks against the door and hide quietly in closets so the bad people won’t murder them. They are not sure if it’s a drill or real, and they’re terrified.

And we allow that, because it would be just too hard to pass sensible gun legislation, put more money into mental healthcare, and do more than give lip service to bullying and aggressive behavior.

We can’t empathize with terrified children, hungry, homeless or abused children, or children in cages who may never see their parents again.

Thoughts and prayers, anyone?

And, we’re missing the common sense gene.

That’s the one we would use to figure out that we’re all fighting down here for the crumbs, because we’re hoping to one day be the one up there with the whole cookie, who refuses to share fairly. We believe the rhetoric of fear and hatred that says “those people” are coming to your neighborhood to take your job, rob your house, and rape and kill your family.

We hang on to that FEAR (false evidence assumed real) because it’s easier to hate the other who we think is lesser, than to take a good hard look at the “fat cats” who cut their own taxes, and then tell you they can’t fund your schools, pay your teachers, or get a decent healthcare plan for everyone, or increase wages so that one illness, or missed paycheck doesn’t land you in the proverbial poor house.

Forget who you voted for. What do you need to happen to make your life better? A living wage? Health care? Good schools for your kids? Clean water for us all? If we can all agree on our most basic needs, we could probably stop fighting each other for the crumbs. It’s time to rediscover our integrity, our empathy and too-long missing common sense.

It’s time to start punching up.

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