Televisions, stereos, computers, video games, and friends are means by which children develop their sense of right and wrong in many families. Do you think children should develop their own sense of morality from means outside of their parents? In the hustle and bustle of life, a parent might be more apt to allow his child to turn to one of these mediums for extended periods of time. This does not allow a child to develop clear expectations of what constitutes right and wrong behavior. This also leaves the child to determine right and wrong by the social customs to which he is exposed. Have you ever heard the term moral relativism? Moral relativism means that moral standards are grounded only in social custom. Morals are defined as good acts.
Do you know how you can get a good act to remain good if the social custom is hurtful? Don´t worry, I do not know the answer either. The terms moral and relativism are contradictory. The prevailing thought or custom of society needs to contain a safeguard to prevent immorality. How will you keep your behavior in check if you do not adopt a morality that contains absolute rights and wrongs? Today, more and more children are adopting their parents´ “feel good” morality, which often causes them to inflict hurt toward others. If more people declare a behavior an acceptable social custom, the behavior will become morally acceptable according to a relative moral view.
A person´s view on a social custom can be influenced by music, television, movies, literature, and societal trends. If these views are not held to a standard that is absolute in regards to right and wrong behavior, the person can begin to lose his ability to see the line between good and bad. Have you ever searched for a good feeling through sex, drugs, material possessions, or open expressions of anger or rage? Are your thoughts rational when you think that you can maintain a healthy relationship while pursuing only those things that make you feel good? What is right or wrong without having an absolute morality? You may question how this absolute standard is set. This will be defined and explained in more detail in the next chapter.
Susan is a seventeen-year-old growing up in a family that does not teach morality. Susan and her friends have classroom discussions with teachers and counselors saying that sexual activity is appropriate if both people are consenting and safe sex is practiced. Through the media and discussions with other students, Susan concludes that the act of oral sex is not considered sexual due to this act not involving penetration. Susan really loves her boyfriend and decides this is a way to remain a virgin and show her boyfriend she loves him.
Can you relate to Susan or Susan´s parents in this example? If you have watched the news and special reports on television, you have been informed that this example has occurred among many teenagers. Many boys and girls believe they are keeping their virginity by engaging in oral sex. They perceive the social custom to be that oral sex is not sex. Where have you heard this before? This is an another example of moral relativism. The conclusion made by Susan was not based on rational thought processes. If Susan understood that her actions were in direct opposition to an absolute moral code that defines acts of love and intimacy, she would make more rational choices. If her parents developed clear behavioral expectations based upon specific virtues, she would be faced with the responsibility of making a decision either to respect her parents´ view on morality or not.
This is not to say that Susan would not have engaged in a sexual relationship. Her choice needed to be based upon her knowing that this behavior had consequences and was not endorsed by her parents or the other systems of care in her life. She and her boyfriend would need to learn what virtues should guide their decisions, and develop behavior expectations based upon these virtues. These expectations would need to align with their parents´ expectations in these same areas. Her thought that oral sex was not sex was easily adopted, since she did not have an absolute morality to challenge this view. As you see, irrational thoughts can be used to justify behavior and avoid responsibility. The person who thinks in morally relative terms would experience difficulties recognizing the hurt that he would cause another person.
The abuse that children suffer within their families also contributes to their irrational thinking. Do you see how the thoughts and actions of parents can contribute to their children´s adopting the same thoughts and behavior patterns? More than three children die each day as a result of child abuse in the home. In 1998, approximately 1100 children died of abuse and neglect. Most of the children who die are under the age of 5; 38 percent of the children are under the age of 1. This is the leading cause of death for infants and young children. This includes falls, choking on food, suffocation, drowning, residential fires, and motor vehicle accidents. Almost one-half of all substantiated cases of neglect and abuse in a family are associated with a parent´s alcohol or drug abuse. As mentioned previously, people with addictions are grounded in irrational thoughts.
Children can act in horrific ways because of the irrational thoughts they develop from negative verbal messages, sexual and physical abuse, and moral relativism.
Brendan Smith was sixteen years old when she killed two people and injured nine. She had decided to shoot a 22-caliber rifle across the street from her house onto the entrance of Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California, on January 29, 1979. She discussed how her violence grew out of an abusive home. She claimed that her father beat and sexually abused her for years. She stated, “I had to share my dad´s bed ´til I was fourteen years old.” She went on to say that her father bought her a gun for Christmas when she asked for a radio. Brendan was the original school rampager.
On September 2, 1996, fourteen-year-old Barry Loukaitis broke into algebra class at the Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake, Washington, with a high-powered rifle and shot three students and their teacher. Two of the students and the teacher died. Students recalled that Barry shot one of the students with whom he was always having a conflict. Barry´s mother suspected that one of the songs that Barry listened to had driven him to commit the crime. The father suggested that the family had three generations´ worth of depressive illnesses in the family. Barry´s mother told the jury that she treated her son as a “confidant” and told him everything. She went on to say that this included plans to kill herself in front of her ex-husband and his girlfriend on Valentine´s Day, 1996. He had been an honor student at school.
The hurt in families is being broadcast in the media more and more. The media is also endorsing acts of abuse. Do you know that there are people in academia who endorse pedophilia? In the April 22, 2002, edition of U.S. News & World Report, John Leo wrote an article entitled, “Apologists for pedophilia.” Larry Constantine, a Massachusetts family therapist and sex book writer, stated that children “have the right to express themselves sexually, which means they may or may not have contact with people older than themselves.” Wardell Pomeroy, coauthor of the original Kinsey reports, stated that incest “can be sometimes beneficial.” Minnesota sociologists included pedophile sex with those “intimate relations that are important and precious.” There are propedophilia rationalizations still being made today.
Some of these rationalizations include the following statements: “Children are sexual beings with the right to pick their partners.” “The quality of relationships, not age, determines the value of sex.” “Most pedophiles are gentle and harmless.” “The damage of pedophilia comes mostly from the shocked horror communicated by parents, not the sex itself.” A new controversial book called Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by author Judith Levine, contains a foreword by former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. One report said that this book plays down the dangers of pedophilia and that Levine thinks this is a good time to endorse “some priest-boy sex.” The report discussed how the “disorder of the intellectual world” trickles into the popular culture, including the school system. Tom O´Carrol has been asked to address the international sex convention in Paris regarding the private rights of pedophiles and their children partners. His pedophile book is on a course list at Cambridge University. If more people in society find this to be acceptable behavior, pedophilia will be a morally acceptable behavior. Does this sound like rational thinking to you?
Here are examples of irrational thinking patterns:
Perfectionistic thinking – Should statements/thoughts: In your relationships, you criticize yourself or other people with phrases such as “I should have”, “I must”, “I have to”, or “I shouldn´t.”
All or nothing thinking: A tendency to think in absolute black or white. There is no middle ground, no room for mistakes. Many men that are survivors of abuse think in these terms. They describe emotions in their relationships in terms of happiness or anger.
Labeling oneself based upon one experience or internal feelings: The tendency to take one isolated event and make a general rule from the experience. “If I do not succeed once, I will never succeed.” “If I made a mistake once I will always make a mistake.” “I feel terrible, so I must be terrible.”
Negative Thinking: The tendency to always focus on the negative and to omit the positive aspects of a situation. Childhood experiences and ways that problems were solved in your relationships will determine what type of lense that you view the world. “I can work through this event and gain valuable experience”, or “There is no hope to make this situation better or to solve this problem.” This also causes you to blow situations out of proportion. “My decision to go on the business trip was the cause for my wife’s death in an automobile accident.”
Factors that lead to irrational thoughts
Mental Illness – Panic, phobias, depression, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, thought disorders, hyperactivity, personality disorders.
Trauma – Abuse, witnessing horrific events, abduction, bullying, and other life threatening events. Receiving Negative Messages as a child – not wanted, minimized, not the favorite, not good enough (perfectionism), not able to make decisions or think critically (codependency).
Family and Societal Norms – 60% of families are single parent, 75% of families have each parent working, bigger houses, better life for children.
Moral Relativism – Morality based upon social customs – “feel-good society”, issues of sexuality, music, television, video games, and quick fixes to problems.
Each of these factors leads a person to look to self and away from evaluating how he or she is relating to another person. Self directed activity has the potential to cause hurt to others in a relationship. The subtle hurt in relationships are what cause the majority of relationship problems today, not physical or sexual abuse. The missing element in many relationships is a conscious attempt to incorporate an absolute morality to the relationship that can be evaluated in an objective manner. In my relationship book, I outline objective ways to evaluate hurt in a relationship along with ways to heal this hurt.