This last two years has offered my country, the United Kingdom, a demonstration of moral destitution in the form of our government. It feels like time and time again we are being offered leadership in how to be an unscrupulous bandit, willing to rob from the poor to give to the rich, and laugh in the faces of those who get trampled under cloven hoof along the way.
I see on social media calls for people to “do the right thing” regardless of the actions of our leaders. But this is why I have an issue with that advice, even though I do technically agree with it.
What is the “right thing”?
I know what I consider to be right. I try, as much as possible, to do what I think is right at all times. I live by a moral code that I feel comfortable with. That I have thought about, considered, and act upon in faith that I am doing the “right thing.” But there are people who disagree with me. People who disagree with me so strongly that they threaten violence against those who express the same views as me, and they believe that in doing so, they’re the ones doing the “right thing.”
The “right thing” is subjective. The “right thing” is different depending on who you are and the life experiences and cultures that have shaped your existence and beliefs. And whilst I don’t under any circumstances believe that those in power should have the right to control your thoughts, or police your beliefs, I do think leaders should be able to put in place rules that are designed to keep us safe. Rules such as not raping and murdering are obvious, but then there are rules that police day to day activities to different extremes at different times.
Last year we followed rules that we were told were the “right thing.” We stayed at home, didn’t hug our families, went for one walk a day. For months, the furthest I went was the local shop, and that felt like it was some dangerous and deadly mission. We follow these rules because we trust those who tell us that it is the “right thing”.
But what now?
Forgive me for the heavy handed analogy, but go with me. Picture my family home and imagine myself as Prime Minister, my partner as the deputy Prime Minister, and our children as the countryfolk we preside over.
A lot of our job as rulers is to give our people the rules to live by. Rules such as “don’t punch your sister”, “don’t smash the lamp”, and “don’t throw spaghetti at the window.” Simple rules that, on the surface, are obvious. Don’t hurt people, don’t destroy things, don’t be wasteful. They’re rules that are easy to police.
But then we give them other rules. Rules about being respectful. Rules about showing tolerance for the beliefs of others whilst also standing up for beliefs of your own. How and when to demand your own wills be prioritised, and when to compromise and allow others to get what they want. How to do the “right thing.”
These are rules about morals. Rules that can’t necassarily be policed in the same way. Throw spaghetti at the window and justice is easily served. The crime and criminal are both apparent, there is no grey area. The spaghetti was thrown by the spaghetti thrower. But the morality? Whether the children have treated their siblings or friends in a morally just way is too subjective to necassarily police, and definitely too hard to define in solid black and white rules that are easy to define and easy to follow.
To guide our children in what is the “right thing,” we have to demonstrate it. We have to live by the code we expect them to live by. Teach them by experience.
This is not to say that we never make mistakes. Humanity is flawed and we cannot demand perfection of others when we are incapable of offering it ourselves. But when mistakes happen, so do acknowledgments and apologies. We are guiding our children to behave in what we believe is the “right way” by behaving in the “right way.” In doing so, our children trust us. Because they see us treating one another with respect, they are learning to give and expect respect.
When they trust us, they trust our rules. When they trust our rules, they learn to live by our rules; both the strict and clear ones, and the more subjective ones. We’re giving clear leadership that can be followed and respected. We love our children and respect our children enough to care about being the best parents we can, and to live in a way that is worthy of respect back.
I know it’s not a perfect analogy and we certainly do things (drink wine, drive cars) that we don’t allow our children to do, but I’m sure it’s obvious where I’m going with this.
Our country has no moral leadership. Not only do they not follow a moral code, they lie and cheat and laugh and mock, but they don’t follow the black and white rules either. Parties during lockdown when families were separated from their dying loved ones because they mistakenly believed the leadership was doing the same.
New rules are coming; Plan B; masks indoors, working from home, vaccine passports. New guidance is coming; get the vaccine booster, don’t socialise unless you have to.
As a country we suffered under the rules believing we were doing the “right thing” only to be laughed at. The “right thing” only works as guidance if the people telling you to do the “right thing” are also doing it.
If my children saw us throwing spaghetti against the windows then they would expect to be able to do the same. If they saw us being racist or abusive towards those around us, they would expect to be able to do the same. And no amount of telling them that it’s not “right” for them would convince them. Our moral leadership is required, or as soon as they’re left unsupervised you can bet they will be mirroring the bad behaviour that we have performed.
We need moral leadership. We need people who actually care about living by what they believe is right, rather than just want to dictate to the masses a set of rules that they aren’t willing to live by themselves.