The Disastrous Descent of our Decency Standards


FILE- In this Jan. 13, 2016, file photo, Icons for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are displayed on a window in New York. Nearly half of U.S. households carry credit card debt, which means many of the friends making you jealous on Instagram may not be able to afford the vacations they post about. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Yes, America’s political and social climate recently has endured more pollution than it has in quite some time. And yes, some rather unfortunate series of events (no, not new titles from Lemony Snicket’s critically acclaimed literary series, as nice as those might be) regularly hit the market of public scrutiny. But does this mean that we must despair for the state of humanity and overreact to the most basic forms of human decency? Absolutely not! Although we should treat each other equally and encourage respectful conduct, we also must not oversell such behavior that we should expect from ourselves. I truly lament the depths to which our standards in this regard have fallen, along with the misconceptions that have prevented us from taking meaningful action against societal inequities and other injustices.

Our over appraisal of basic human decency says much more about the depravity of a vocal minority as of late than it does about the actual significance of an otherwise minor deed. Based upon the reaction to one’s routine act of kindness, you might think that they’ve just cured cancer or solved world hunger. I mean, congratulations for not being a total creep or jerk, and for doing what’s expected of you! Let’s throw a parade in your honor, or engrave your name onto a golden participation trophy on behalf of your sheer existence!

In all seriousness, I understand that it’s easy to feel pessimistic and latch onto the faintest glimmers of hope for humanity, but why should we lower our standards for one another? For example, I don’t celebrate too much when it comes to diverse trendsetters within politics, entertainment and other fields. Given that I’m a white heterosexual male, you might consider my input here ill-advised, but please hear me out before turning your eyes elsewhere! I’m always thrilled to witness such progression, and certainly we should recognize the resilience and milestones of the oppressed; yet I await the point at which society normalizes such diversity instead of feeling obligated to typecast people. Acknowledging the rarity of equal opportunity and basic human decency desensitizes us to routine injustices, lessening the likelihood that we act upon them because we don’t believe in our capacity to make a meaningful difference. We shall no longer accept said injustices as the norm or implicitly enable toxic behavior, but rather make significant changes and move forward from there.

Social media particularly engenders harmful falsehoods about humanity and rarely stimulates notable change. Admirably, social media users express outrage at societal wrongdoers, but their ‘sage’ or ‘woke’ posts rarely say anything too novel or profound (Cheating on your significant other is scummy? And we shouldn’t discriminate against people different from us? Wow, what groundbreaking revelations!). As well-intentioned as social media users are in their attempts to spread awareness and no matter how many thousands of likes and shares a given post may garner, said post alone probably won’t sway too many opinions or effectively inspire change, especially given that those who like and share the post likely are predisposed to agree strongly with its content. It’s simply not enough to merely become a social media celebrity and then leave it to others to do the hard work (and those fame seekers who plead, “Follow me on FacebookTwitterInstagramSnapchat…,” or “Buy my overpriced merch!”, only detract from their central message).

Although recently-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez receives criticism for her outspoken social media presence, she heads to Congress every day and at least strives to advance our country and back up her words. Of course, not everyone has such a large influence, but even the most minor contributions can make a significant difference.

Lastly (and before we take things out of proportion) we should remember that those who speak insensitively or commit horrible misdeeds become viral sensations mainly because of the negative, extraordinary circumstances surrounding their situation; thus these outliers don’t represent the majority of people. In fact, I hardly encounter too many stories online about, say, a humble family man with a pleasant life and little hardship, likely because such normalcy provides little room for intense discussion or sustenance for anyone’s superiority complex. These flashbulb anecdotes, as emotionally gripping as they may be, shouldn’t completely cloud our view of the big picture concerning the overall state of humanity.

Perhaps I’m naive for maintaining such faith in people, and maybe I’m overreacting to society’s valiant efforts to better itself. However, I truly believe that we must set higher standards for ourselves, and that we can do much more to ameliorate the world around us. Once we evaluate decency at its true worth, we can appreciate and achieve greatness.

Michael Katz is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email  

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