Snowden and WikiLeaks at Odds on Releasing DNC Emails
Memo to Ryan Lochte: Avoid the Slippery Slope

What ever Happened to Common Sense and Common Decency?

Why we have Lost our Moral Compass

I have blogged many times before about the loss of a moral compass in society. It goes much deeper than simply not being able to distinguish right from wrong. It goes to the very core of our being. Many people don’t even know what it means to have common sense and be decent in dealings with others. Perhaps the reason is the social-media-driven culture that does not lend itself to interpersonal communications and interaction. Let’s face it, you can only do so much to demonstrate ethical intent and the ability to treat others the way we want to be treated in 140 characters or less.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge said: “Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.” The ancient Greeks believed that reason and thought, i.e., wisdom, precede the choice of action and that we deliberate about things we can influence with our decisions. Our decisions are at first driven by our character formed by virtues, such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, respect and responsibility, and then applied through careful deliberation.

There are many examples of a lack of common sense and common decency. Most people agree one is Donald Trump. A wise person would not shoot himself in the foot at every turn of the Presidential primary. It is the epitome of carelessness of thought to insult different people and groups of people. It defies logic to call out all members of a particular nationality and families of war veterans, or to make vitriolic attacks on others. It lacks common sense to act first and then consider the consequences of one's actions.

But, let me stop there. The purpose of this blog is not to criticize Trump – only to use his behavioral patterns as examples of a decline in decency and wisdom of thought and action. I would say a majority of Americans are guilty of similar conduct, although in varying degrees.

It seems to me that common sense and common decency are the hallmarks of a civilized society. Does this mean we have become uncivilized? A rash of violent incidents in our streets targeting blacks and police officers alike speaks to the growing problem of a lack of respect for those around us who may not conform to what we believe is (or should be) the norm of behavior established in our “civil” society.

I’m concerned that we are experiencing a breakdown of the social fabric in our society and it portends increased disruptive behavior and violent actions in our streets and elsewhere. I’m equally concerned that our foundational ethical values have fallen by the wayside.

Why is it that so many people are devoid of knowledge of all things ‘ethical’? Let’s face it, the damage begins at home when parents ignore teaching right from wrong and focus too much attention on satisfying the needs of their kids and avoiding conflict. It’s easier to say all right – do it – than to just say no and enforce it.

Our schools are so busy disciplining kids and monitoring their use of smart phones and other devices – at least in the classroom – that there isn’t sufficient time to teach them about classic virtue philosophy that emphasizes practical knowledge and wisdom as the essence of being a good person and pursuing a life of true happiness.

Hillary Clinton has written about “It takes a Village” to raise children.  She focuses on the impact individuals and groups outside the family have, for better or worse, on a child's well-being, and advocates a society which meets all of a child's needs. If it takes a village to raise ethical children, then our children are in trouble.

The societal issues we face today are no different than those years ago. We need to provide equal opportunity for our citizens and while I believe we are in good shape here, it is undeniable that some segments of society have been left behind.

The basis for our civilized society is to respect others regardless of race, color, creed, national origin or sexual identity. Clearly, we have a long way to go here as incidents of violence against certain people and incidents of bullying continue to plague our society. For example, last Sunday an imam and his assistant were shot dead as they walked along a street in the New York borough of Queens.

Last Thursday, a 13-year-old Staten Island boy, Daniel Fitzpatrick, took his own life. Fitzpatrick, taunted and bullied mercilessly over his weight, grades, and innocence, wrote a final, heartbreaking letter lamenting that nearly no one tried to help him including the principal of Holy Angels Catholic Academy. The fact that it is a religious institution that did not come to his aid makes it all the more troubling.

We face other systemic challenges in society including to develop a humane immigration policy, what to do about a growing need for the less well off in our society and growing entitlement payments, and increasing violence and the spread of “weapons of mass destruction” right here in the U.S.A.

Let me close with another quote, this time from Henry David Thoreau: “Things do not change; we change.” 

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 16, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: