Basic Decency

chris and whitney

It seems that it is usually the conservatives in our country who are constantly decrying the loss/lack of basic human decency. It’s hard to be against the idea of decency, but it’s good to be clear and honest about what lack of decency looks like. I found the picture above on a friend’s Facebook wall. It is disgusting and I’m sorry to put it here. I do it only to show how it betrays a profound lack of decency by people who are complaining about a lack of decency.

As a pastor, counselor, and graduate school professor, I am constantly involved in the normal lives of normal people. If there’s anything I have learned, it is that every human being on the planet is struggling with something. The majority are 1) suffering badly; and 2) suffering in silence. That’s the human condition.

This photo speaks of Whitney, a person struggling with something millions of people struggle with, in such a disrespectful and demeaning way, just because the poster is angry that the other guy didn’t have flags lowered for him. Certainly this is understandable frustration. Chris was obviously an honorable soldier whose life should be celebrated, but the way it comes out in these comments made about Whitney is lacking in basic decency and compassion.

Whitney wasn’t a zero. No human being is a zero. If we have had even halfway competent parenting, we all learn this on our mother’s knee. Whitney wasn’t a soldier/hero like Chris was, but her music meant a lot to a lot of people and her voice was the voice of God. The beauty and glory of God came through in that voice when she opened her mouth. She moved and touched people. She used this amazing gift in amazing ways, and her ultimate death from this terrible addiction is a world-class tragedy that deprived the whole world of that gift, her mother of a daughter, and her daughter of a mother. She was a huge part of the childhood and young adulthood of millions of people. I didn’t know her personally, but I cared about her and wanted good things for her for almost thirty years, especially when I became aware of her struggle with substance abuse. Don’t decent people root for those who are struggling? Couldn’t that be considered almost a means-test for whether or not a person is decent at all? What can be said about the characters of people who post pictures of people in their worst and most vulnerable public moments, and make statements to the effect that their lives have no value?

As for Chris, I know little about him, but apparently he was was a top-class man of honor and integrity. He probably should have had flags lowered for him, or at least been mentioned by the president, but a lot of soldiers die and he clearly can’t mention every one. The question of whether flags should have been lowered for this man is a legitimate one. The comparison of one life that is called worthwhile and one life that is dismissed as worthless is almost as lacking in basic decency as something can be. And it seems to have been done merely to take a cheap shot at a president the original poster does not like.

The original poster conveys such a profound arrogance and pride in his judgmental words about Whitney, and the way he devalues her life. How can there be any question that the world would suck so much less if people had a) the slightest compassion for the struggles of others; and b) a sense of the fallenness and misfortunes of all of us, rather than standing at a distance and mocking someone who failed so spectacularly in public.

What has to happen to a person to be this cruel, and this out of touch with common human failures and struggles? Those of us who live among mortals every day — people who are getting honest about their real fears and failures and vulnerabilities — are mystified and shocked by this, especially when those who descend to this level are doing it under the guise of being outraged at someone else’s (in this case the president’s) lack of basic decency?

There is no excuse. All that happens from here is people who hate Obama or Whitney start making excuses, or people accuse me of not being patriotic. But none of that is the issue. The issue is what is considered decent in our society. If you really want to see how “decent” these people are, you can check out the post thread on Facebook. Lower your standards first. Very, very low.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Timothy M. Malnar

    Reading those, often horrifying, generally nauseating, rarely amusing, comments via the shared Facebook thread reminded me of the 1944 existentialist play by Jean Paul Sartre, entitled No Exit. I read this in high school and again later in my adult life a couple of times, as it’s thesis, “Hell is other people,” seemed to resonate with me.

    Of course, if this thesis has any real-time merit, the converse would simultaneously be true, that “Heaven is other people,” also.

    Alas, another philosophical conundrum, as the song plays on …

    What is not so much of a conundrum, is the need for basis human decency, as you have, thankfully, pointed out. A need for each one of us to become the change that we want to see in the world, as we, moment-to-moment, have the opportunity to be the image of the invisible God of Love, Hope, and Redemption.

    • I love your thoughts here, Tim. I am embarrassed to admit I have never read No Exit, but I will prioritize it now! Thanks for sharing.

  • Ruth

    Agreed.