Cultural Values in Ethically Bankrupt Times

Posted October 24th, 2018 in Culture by Dr. William (Bill} DeMarco

Cultural Values in Ethically Bankrupt Times

As  I have frequently written in these pages, CULTURE is a living thing…being  the sum total of the history , values, and folklore of a society at a given point in time.  It impacts how we live, what we value, how we relate to one another, who our role models are, how and what we celebrate, what and how we eat…pray…and yes, even love.

Culture Model*

Copyright, Dr. William DeMarco, 1993


I would not be surprised in the least if it comes to you that we live in precarious times.  Institutions that have traditionally been bulwarks against dramatic and even unsettling change, have lost much of their lustre.  Current history* is creating a new set of values*, reflected in the folklore*  of modern times, all becoming part of the culture going forward.  Now that becomes a scary thought when we think of their impact on the future generations we are spawning.

The reality is that fear of change has always been thus!  The Stoics of ancient Roman times wrote frequently about it. For example, the second century Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius  wrote in his famous book of “Meditations”:

     ”Loss is nothing else but change, and  change is Nature’s                                                                   delight”

Not being able to see the future, we  naturally fear it; for we cannot control what we do not see.

Another example is found in the Four Gospels of the New (Christian) Testament of the Bible.  All four evangelists (Gospel authors) wrote about how the de facto ruling class of Pharisees feared the loss of power/status due to the teachings of Jesus Christ. He preached about another kingdom, and challenged the status quo  by teaching that the greatest commandment of all is to “Love God with all your heart”….”And Love your neighbor as yourself”…for “the poor will always be with us”…so “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick,  shelter the homeless”. In modern times this would most likely be called true “socialism”.

Christ also stated many times that He was the Son of God.  Talk about a radical departure from the values of the day, even though the Jewish people had been waiting for their Messiah (a perceived temporal leader) for centuries. As the Pharisees saw it, how could  a carpenter’s son from Nazareth challenge their interpretations of scripture and the divine; so they contrived to have him executed by the legal protocols of the day.

Here we have another example of fear of change and loss of  control.  Human beings have never handled change well, in spite of the fact that like death, it is a certainty that both change and death are in all of our futures. In spite of all today’s doom and gloom – sorry to be so maudlin- centuries of human history can also provide us with solace and comfort.

Herodotus, frequently referred to as the “Father of History”, wrote thousands of years ago that history is less about reality (i.e.facts) than about relevance.  His writings tried to inspire all future generations to think less about the “who”…the “what”…the “when” but more about the relevance of human realities

What comes to my mind immediately is what was life like for my grandparents and great grandparents, immigrants all living through the relevance of their realities, which happen to be quite similar to those of modern times. They experienced natural disasters, prejudice, tribalism,  greed and entitlement of class structure, ineffective political systems,  terrorism, and a sense of helplessness.

For all this , they believed in the existence of better angels.  They saw their lives as better than in the old world because they had dreams that they believed could become a reality: financial & educational opportunity, helping hands and big hearts of caring friends and agencies, labor unions, and inspiring and helpful social & religious institutions, just to name a few.

Their experiences were no worse than those of so many other “societies” or  sub-cultures, frequently referred to as hyphenates   (i.e.  –Canadians,  -Americans,                 -Asians,  -Africans, etc.). Of course, tribalism was present in all the miseries of these souls, frequently showing up in their attitudes* towards others, but the fortunate ones focused  far  more on the relevance to their lives at a far more granular level.  Sure, tribalism with its ‘blame game”was present, but food, shelter, housing, financial security, and how to relate to one another proved to be far more important in their daily lives.

It was as if they were channelling Seneca, the great first century stoic, when he wrote:

    “Associate with people who are likely to improve you.”


When fear of change and genuine disgust with the ethical bankruptcy of modern times gets you down, focus on the better angels of  more recent times who inspire you.  Read their biographies, video clips, anything you can get you hands on.  Here are a few to get started with: Members of your family, Family stories,  Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Benazir Bhutto, Tommy Douglas, Terry Fox, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, George Marshall, Anthony deMello, etc,, etc.

Here is another person to think about here.    He made a difference in his “moments of truth”.Thomas “Tip” O’Neil, the  Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980’s was a physical and political giant of a man.  He also was a man of the people,  as he expressed in an oft-repeated prescient statement::

                          “All politics is local” 

This became a clarion call for people of diverse political persuasions at the time.  Doesn’t get more relevant than that.

The bottom  line is that Tip O’Neil was genuinely inspiring. when it counted most.  Don’t think of political persuasion here.  What each of us need today to get past the craziness of modern times is to find our own better angels.  Each culture has countless sources of inspiration.  They are around us everywhere.

Meaningful Reflections!

Dr. Bill DeMarco

  • *Refer to other Blog posts on this website for articles on this and related topics.

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