Poll: Are We Losing Our Goodness?

Nicole Johnson wonders if the excess of excessive disturbing headlines lately means that humans are losing their goodness.

I am sickened by the latest news headlines. The stories I have read are shocking. Given these reports, you would never believe we are living in a civilized society.

To highlight the hatred, bigotry, dysfunction, and deception, let’s analyze the captions that have been broadcast to millions over the past several days:

Via National Public Radio: Florida Teen’s Killing: A Parent’s Greatest Fear

What happened in the Trayvon Martin killing is unconscionable. I abhor George Zimmerman’s actions and I abhor his belief system. I pray there will be expedient justice brought to this case.

Via CBS News: Miss. teen pleads guilty in rundown hate crime

Deryl Dedmon, a 19-year-old white Mississippi teenager, has pleaded guilty to murder and committing a hate crime for running over a black man, James Craig Anderson, with his pickup truck. This is disgusting and unbelievable! Here’s another glaring example of hatred, bigotry, and vile human behavior.

Via ABC News: Florida Woman Allegedly Offered Friend $25,000 to Kill Husband

Doreen Dufresne has been charged with solicitation to commit a murder after she allegedly offered a friend $25,000 to kill her third husband. Yes, I said third husband. Wait until you read what happened to her second husband…

Via TIME: Saints Coach Suspended

The National Football League has suspended New Orleans Saints head coach, Sean Payton, without pay for next season and indefinitely banned the team’s former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, for running a vicious hit-to-injure cash bounty program. What happened to sportsman-like conduct? What happened to having compassion for your fellow man on the field? Why have athletes become so malicious?

After reading these stories, which have sadly become persistent and pervasive throughout news outlets, I am left wondering: has our society lost its moral compass? Are people losing their goodness and respect for human life? If so, what do you believe accounts for this loss?

Photo courtesy of Xurble

About Nicole Johnson

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  1. I would have to agree with some of the people above and say that this kind of stuff has been happening for years its just that now a days with the Internet and the power pf social media it seems like we can’t help but notice all these news over and over again. In the old days if you didn’t want to hear about something you would just keep your tv off and would not read the paper. Now, you’ll hear about it through your email, mobil device, computer, a FB update, a tweet and even txt messages if you’re like me and like to get important new on your cell phone through a text message.

  2. Anna Marigold says:

    Of course not. In fact, as time goes on, humans become MORE ‘good’ and respect human life more! What makes you think humans valued human life before the modern age? Think about it: would we consider breaking someone on the wheel (breaking all the bones and then weaving the person along the spokes of a wheel while they’re still alive) for a minor crime like stealing? Definitely not. We wouldn’t even execute most (if not all) punishments listed in the bible. After the advent of nuclear weaponry, how many humans have died from nuclear warfare? Zero, because world leaders know that everyone would lose.
    Why would the media showcase how ‘tame’ humans have gotten? Why would they report a story on how one city DIDN’T ransack another city when its low on resource? Or that raping women is now seen as a bad thing (a fairly new notion)? Or how most people AREN’T torturing animals for fun in a public spectacle as if it’s a night at the movies (I’m aware of bull-fighting)? Or how a whole country isn’t going to war because another country’s leader simply ‘disrespected’ our leader? No, humans today are definitely not angels. But we’re getting better, especially when you compare our actions and thought processes to the ones of the medieval times. Our moral compass is growing. I’m not being optimistic. I’m being realistic.

  3. Interesting article. I voted ‘yes’ here but it’s with some apprehension. I agree with some of your points – there’s a disturbing trend of “bad” stories right now, showing us the worst of people. But I wonder if it’s the way stories are scrutinized and portrayed that contributes to the way we feel about what’s happening around us? I tend to agree with HeatherN that the internet increases the volume of these nasty things.

  4. We always hear the worst while those who sacrifice and struggle and move us forward as a society do so silently. We hear those who boast how great they are while many do the right thing without fanfare because their acts are selfless. We focus on the flashy, admire the loud and worship images we believe are real… at least some of us.

    Every day there is enough kindness, sacrifice and intelligent thoughts and actions to keep us evolving. We have better medical care, less people are starving to death and wars despite what we see on the news, are becoming a thing of the past. We are learning. Still, as a young part of the 14 billion year-old universe, our time here on Earth has been relatively short. We are in an age of instant gratification, so we want perfection immediately and are disappointed we don’t have it in our hands. Eventually we will realize that we must work for utopia and continue to sacrifice and learn. Patience is our first lesson.

  5. Simply stated… I do not believe we are losing our goodness. IMHO, there are two things at play here. First and foremost, as with the incorrect belief of many about our children being less safe today than years ago and therefore hovering over them, we have so much access to information, from so many sources, it leads us to believe many more bad things are happening. Now we not only hear for traditional news sources, independents, and bloggers, but also anyone with a smart phone is publishing. People tend to think more people are interested in hearing negative news, than positive, so that is what they tend to publish. This all leads us to believe there is less good… when in fact it is probably just the opposite.

    Second, due to social platforms, many have been led to believe that making a friend, or doing something good, is as simple as clicking on a link. I speak about this often and encourage people to build relationships, meet people in person, call them on the phone, and even online… “look them in the eyes digitally.” I think this is a temporary situation that people are beginning to understand. As we all master the ability to truly build meaningful relationships online, leverage the technology and platforms to enhance our ability to do good, and integrate this ability into our every day lives, it will become evident that we are not losing our goodness… but just the opposite.

    Let’s all make a point of sharing all the good we see… even something as simple as a smile. This in and of itself will encourage others to do good and be kind.

    “A good person can make another person good; it means that goodness will elicit goodness in the society; other persons will also be good.” ~Bhumibol Adulyadej

  6. Kevin Chapman says:

    The blog poses an interesting question that is easily answered if we dissect the semantics. No, we have not “lost” our goodness, but rather, there have always been individuals across various cultures who deviate markedly from their cultural expectations for a plethora of reasons. Ethnocentrism, racism, cultural biases, mental health conditions, sociocultural cavities, poor parenting, spiritual distres, and genetic predispositions all have an influence on an indvidual’s actions in a given context. However, the consistency of many of these factors contribute to consistency of defiance. So, we aren’t losing our goodness; many people are just engulfed in a pattern of bad actions due to a host of genetic and environmental factors. Fortunately, this is a minority of the population.

  7. Tom Brechlin says:

    I’m simply going to look at trends that I’ve observed. Kids are using drugs at a much earlier age. Teen and pre-teen crimes are on a rise. Gang violence is up. Female violent crime is up. 24/7 coverage is simply showing what news didn’t show in the past. And I firmly believe that even with 24/7 coverage, we’re only seeing the yip of the ice burg.

  8. I would agree that part of the reason we feel like the world is worse than it used to be is due to 24/7 news coverage and, of course, the internet. Now you can hear about all the atrocities that occur in the world within moments of them happening, and if they’re bad enough or strange enough, they’ll be everywhere.

    I’d also like to point out that, historically, people are always looking back with rose colored goggles and talking about how things used to be better, particularly with regards to morality and goodness. There were periods in ancient Rome where there were big campaigns to make Rome a moral place like it “used to be.” And from what little I remember of it…I think part of Akhenaten’s monotheistic cult in ancient Egypt was about restoring order and morality (albeit via a new system as opposed to a return to the old system). And goodness knows the reaction against Akhenaten after he died was certainly about ‘fixing’ society.

    Anyway, my point with the history is that it is common for people to worry that the current generation is somehow losing it’s way or losing it’s moral compass. It’s not that we are losing our way, it’s just that our way ends up looking different than the generation before us…and on and on it goes.

  9. Bipartisan says:

    24/7 news coverage, yes, but what really accounts for the loss? In my opinion – a lack of family and a two-parent household, a lack of effective parenting, a lack of real community (social media is not real community), a lack of education, a lack of religion in people’s lives, egocentrism, unemployment, poverty, anger, fear, ignorance, greed….

  10. Jamie Reidy says:

    Sorry for the delay, but I had to finish watching porn.

    I agree with the posters who have targeted 24/7 news coverage; we simply hear so much more than we ever did.

  11. MichelleG says:

    I think crimes have shifted. I think it used to be a lot more like spousal abuse, child abuse, family murders, child abductions, baby murders; now it’s more bullying, riots, white collar crime, Internet crimes, Internet sex trafficking. Notice that, the first group deals with individuals; while the second is groups/classes of people. Groups of people, actually on the whole, commit more crimes…but when it’s reported, it’s mostly all under one umbrella/term — ie. Internet sex trafficking, white collar crime…so we don’t interpret it as criminal/harmful as one-to-one stories that single out individuals; therefore, don’t believe that crime has increased. One-to-one stories hit home more. Group crimes are harder to put into numbers and bring people into justice (international crime).

    Things which I think has helped reduced “individual” crimes in the first group, includes: education, Amber Alert (alert public of missing child); teen sex education, birth control for students? and free condoms, housing for young mothers — all help reduced baby/child murders; kidshelpline, more education and some free counselling helping couples and family overcome differences; if abuse is reported, spouse will be charged (instead of leaving it up to the victim to decide or drop charges). That’s all I can think of now.

    • “I think crimes have shifted. I think it used to be a lot more like spousal abuse, child abuse, family murders, child abductions, baby murders; now it’s more bullying, riots, white collar crime, Internet crimes, Internet sex trafficking.”

      I’d like to know whether you’ve got statistics on that or whether it’s just a general feeling you’ve got. Because, if you don’t have statistics…then I’m willing to bet that the reason you think that is more to do with the narrative told in the news than actual numbers of each type of crime committed. For example, a lot of people in the U.S. would probably say that terrorism is a bigger problem today than it was 20 years ago…but that’s just the perception based on how much it was reported and how it was reported.

  12. Soullite says:

    Are we losing our goodness? Not really. I think we’re losing our civilization, and that with it, we’re losing our sense of decency.

    I mean… look around. Outside of the major cities or the best neighborhoods in the smaller communities, everything is crumbling and falling apart. We have few jobs, and what jobs we do have aren’t going to pay the bills. College tuition is astronomical, and the wages a degree would provide aren’t keeping up with those costs. Healthcare – even if you have insurance – is too expensive to actually use. And our entire political system (except for the voters, who don’t seem to matter) couldn’t care less.

    A situation like that causes all kinds of stress, and humans aren’t that good at dealing with stress. We’ve been all been left to rot, while our so-called ‘leaders’ stand firmly behind the vultures that intend to pick out bones dry. Indeed – two of your examples are just that: people in authority saying ‘screw-all’ to the rules precisely because they know they can get away with it. The police let a murderer walk because they don’t care about the victim, and a college coach slips his players a little extra cash to break the law – and I bet none of them spend one night in jail for it.

    How is anyone supposed to believe in things like ‘goodness’, ‘justice’, or even ‘law’ in a situation like ours?

  13. Danielle says:

    It is disturbing … the headlines you see, but I believe the best thing is to keep up hope. I will always believe in the goodness of people. The whole yin yang shebang. There will always be bad people, but where there are bad people there must also be good people. And in most “bad” people there is a little bit of goodness in them, and in most “good” people there is a little bit of badness.

    But, I do not believe humans are losing their goodness. I believe there are more good people on this earth than there are bad. And, as I see it, that is how it will always be.

  14. I just finished reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” which describes all kinds of violence and lynchings…I don’t think we were that good to start with….perhaps some people want to turn the clock back…?

    • i have to agree. inkeeping with other species, im not sure this species’ moral compass is set towards good. i feel it’s set to indifference-to-slightly-bad.
      my own impression is that human instinct tends towards being inclusive and kind, only 30 to 40 % of the time

  15. Peter Houlihan says:

    Depressing at those things are, I wouldn’t attribute them to “lost” goodness. If anything I’d say we’re still progressing:

    Violent racists still exist, but more people voted for a black president. Could that have happened in the 1800s?

    • I agree with Peter (and Heather, below. I think the way nostaligia works is that the past tends to seem better in our memories than it actually was, so we see something like a hate crime in the present and it affects us strongly, while glossing over hate crimes of the past that we weren’t there or that went unreported. As Heather notes, it’s often older generations blaming the younger ones, until it’s their turn to be among the older ones who look back with nostalgia and blame the new youngsters.

      Also, it’s a truism of journalism that “if it bleeds, it leads”, so more news means more blood, not necessarily that people are “bleeding” with more frequency than ever. While I agree with John above that the media manufacture many stories, the only example I think qualifies in the list given in the article was the last one about the NFL bounty scandal.

      That one really happened like the others, but I think the outrage was largely manufactured, given how much those athletes are paid to violently hit each other in what’s considered “clean” play, with the biggest baddest hits getting featured approvingly on highlight reels. The bounties in question were minuscule (compared to the salaries involved) and given how much more money they stand to make by winning than losing, it’s not like those athletes never think about knocking out an opponent to help their team’s chances. It’s an unsurprising side game within a pro sport that already pays men to injure each other, and still more tame than a sport like boxing or UFC where the goal is to repeatedly hurt your opponent until you knock him out.

      I don’t morally object to any of these sports, but my point is that while the NFL bounty system was unsportsmanlike for sure, it’s not like it was a shocking, outrageous development. It was guys throwing small change around (small change to them, not us) over stuff they already get paid, praised, and famous for. It’s about as shocking as the idea that there might be any pro teams who hold “kangaroo courts” and levy fines against each other for infractions, which undoubtedly deprive individuals of due process and fair representation. I’m outraged at this affront to the Constitution. Outraged, I say.

  16. John Sctoll says:

    To address your questions:

    I don’t believe we have lost our moral compass, one the possible reasons for the apparent upturn is that we now have 24/7 news, it has become a business, not in the way it used to be, when news was reported NOT created.

    I think it was Walter Cronkite who said (when asked about the difference between news in his day and now) “Today, newsreporters never let the facts get in the way of a good story”

    Remember when you have stations whos only product is news, they have to produce that news ALL THE TIME and quite frankly when there isn’t enough product on the market they have to go into the manufacturing business.

  17. John Sctoll says:

    The first thing I thought when I read that about the suicide of the second husband was a few years ago a man died from 4 blows to the head with an ax…it was ruled a suicide that was until about a year after the crime his wife was taped confessing to the crime and was having an affair with one of the local cops.

  18. John Sctoll says:

    Wow. suicide by drinking anti freeze over a long period of time…Sorry but I have that damn near impossible to believe.

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