Wednesday, July 01, 2009

North by Northeast, or there abouts...

Back at Millville Grade School, Summit Taylor’s furnace room also doubled as the teachers’ smoking lounge. Nothing fancy, mind you, but it did have a couple of vinyl covered chairs, and one of those ashtrays on a stand, with a button that you pushed to send the ashes and crushed butts down to the base of the stand. I think Summit dumped it in the coal furnace when it got full and you couldn’t push the button anymore. They probably wouldn’t let him do that nowadays.

Whenever we were out for recess, and Summit was out taking care of his janitorial duties, and the teachers weren’t smoking in the furnace room, my old buddy Stinky Wilmont would occasionally sneak in and swipe a cigarette or two. I don’t know if he really liked to smoke them, or if he just liked the way he looked when he stuck one of them behind his ear. Maybe he just wanted to prove he could get away with it.

Whatever his reasoning, he never seemed to think there was really anything wrong with stealing, or smoking, or sticking cigarettes behind his ear. At least until Principal Baker caught him in the furnace room, with a couple of the principal’s smokes. When the wood and smoke cleared, the tearful Stinky was a changed man, and quite remorseful about his despicable actions.

I guess it’s possible that he had seen the error of his ways, but his revelation would have carried a little more weight if it had occurred after he had swiped only a couple of cigarettes, instead of waiting to appear after he was caught.

There’s something that’s called a moral compass. Most people have one, I think. Not everybody’s points in the same direction, for sure, but I do appreciate people with firm convictions, even if our compasses don’t always line up. At least I know which way it’s pointing.

Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Governor who had at least a two year long affair with his mistress from Argentina, had a revelation similar to Stinky’s when he was caught, metaphorically speaking, with his pants down. I understand that we are all subject to temporary lapses in judgment, but Mr. Sanford’s remorseful tone would have been a little more convincing if he had adopted it a year and a half or so ago.

I felt the same way when I heard Bernie Madoff, the con man who bilked investors out of billions of dollars, explain how horrible he felt about what he had done. If he was actually sorry for his actions, and not just about getting caught, I would have thought his conscience would have kicked in a few billion dollars ago.

I realize the world is way too big to expect everyone to agree on what is moral or ethical. But I would submit that if your sense of right or wrong is based on what you think you can get away with, or if it’s based on the fear of punishment from your principal, or your spouse, or your government, or if it changes only after you’re caught, you might want to consider getting your compass recalibrated.

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