Friday, May 27, 2011

Being responsibly aware

Catholic News Agency by Deacon Patrick Moynihan

In a dramatic burst, Jack Nicholson, as Colonel Jessup in “A Few Good Men,” barks, “You can’t handle the truth.” He follows his statement with gruff, paternalistic argument that amounts to moral relativism of the ends-justify-the-means variety. The movie’s point is that we need to work to eradicate this type of thought from our society and seek to do the highest good without moral compromise.

Certainly, movies, although simpler than life, have a place in aiding us in the task of moral and philosophical development. Sometimes they disappoint, but they can also be an excellent social medium for growth. However, as much as I love going to the movies, I suspect that social development requires a level of participation in the world beyond that which can be accomplished while eating popcorn — more on that later.

Jessup’s soliloquy came to mind the other day when I was thumbing through an old TIME magazine [May 9th, 2011] and stopped to read a10 Questions interview with President George H. W. Bush. Asked what it was like to be President, the senior Bush responded stoically, “…right now there are only five of us who understand what it means to be Commander in Chief.” I immediately thought of Nicholson’s Jessup.

We may bristle a bit at these dismissive statements, especially living in a post-Viet Nam War / Watergate America. We may even have the urge to yell, “I want the truth!” as the idealistic JAG lawyer, played by Tom Cruise, does at Jessup. But, the reality is that since most of us will never be as intensely involved in the world’s muck as a Marine colonel or the President is by necessity, we do have the luxury, as Jessup snarls, of not knowing much of the harsh truth about how the world around us really operates — and we like it that way.

Lately, I have been wondering if it is right to afford ourselves the luxury of not knowing the truth. Specifically, I have been pondering the moral requirement to seek a responsible awareness for what is happening in the world around us. Maybe, this is why the former President’s quote so easily sent my mind back to Jessup’s harangue.

There are many difficult problems in the world we cannot change readily, if at all, but knowing what they are is at least a beginning toward sharing the burden of others. Therefore, we should know how many our soldiers have died to date in Afghanistan and Iraq — 6,015 as of May 25th. We should also know how many citizens of these countries have lost their lives due to collateral damage, suicide bombings and war related violence — estimated by some organizations to be nearing one million.

We should also be aware that 15 million children die each year due to malnutrition, the lack of clean water and poor sanitation. 925 million people went hungry last year. Nearly half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day; 80% lives on less than $10 a day. Unemployment in underdeveloped and war-impacted countries ranges from 40 to 90% — it is often stated to be over 60% in Haiti. Consequently, 25% of the world does not have access to proper shelter or food.

We should also be aware that less than 1% of the world has a college education. Nearly 100 million children have no access to school. Nearly 20% of the world is illiterate — two out of three illiterate people are women. Education is unilaterally accepted as a cure to poverty. Specifically, development escalates immediately when women are given equal access to education.

Some may say it is worthless to know these things if we, as individuals, cannot change them. But, by that same logic, it is worthless to know that a friend’s father has died. It may make us uncomfortable or even downright sad to seek responsible awareness; but, besides the fact that our sympathy is important to others, it is also the first step to putting an end to the type of moral pragmatism that Jessup’s speech exposes and Mr. Bush’s comment suggests.

Put that way, not knowing is not much of a luxury. It’s just ignorance — isn’t it.

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

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