Thinking About Integrity

I continue to spend a bunch of time painting when I can fit it in.  I had the idea that I might paint all the trim on our house this summer, but that is clearly not to be.  There is too much left to do and my flexible time is about over.  One week and I am back into the swing of things with work full time.  So it goes.  I’ve got weekends, right?  I got up early and painted this morning.  I removed the doors from our deck yesterday, took them right off the hinges and set them up in the garage on sawhorses.  I scraped and sanded them and primed them yesterday.  Then they had to dry for a day so we had a night without doors onto the deck.

Of course, we had some intense thunderstorms last night.  Heavy rain and wind and those big flashes of lightning that make everything seem more dramatic in the dark.  I hung a couple of towels at the base of the doors to at least catch the splashing.  That worked out just fine.  This morning I got up early again to paint the doors lying down in the garage.  They were waiting patiently for me.  That is done.  Now I still need to scrape the windows, clean the glass, reattach the clips for the storm glass, rehang the doors, and rehang the storm glass.  Almost done with that task.  All that needs to get done by this afternoon when we have visitors coming.

Anyway, with all this time prepping and painting, I have some time to think.  I spent the other day thinking about my brother and the path his life has taken and the opportunities he has not in front of him.  This morning I thought about morals and integrity.  The book of the summer for me has been John Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent.  The plot of the story revolves around one man’s struggle with his principles.  Under pressure from his family he winds up making his fortune, but only after making some decisions that are morally questionable.   While I slapped on latex I thought this.  The book was, according to Steinbeck, written in part to address a decline of integrity in American culture.  That decline has not been stopped.

I was thinking about how we prize money in our culture over most anything else.  We don’t think long term.  We don’t look at the big picture.  Have a loss this quarter?  The company must be in trouble.  But what company can grow every quarter.  That seems an impossible thing to ask.  But this pressure to make profits means that companies, meaning the people who run them, think more about dollar profits than they do about costs to the environment, to health, to workers.  The people who run companies often compromise moral principles for short term gain.  That is too bad, since I would prefer to shop from companies that are simply, well, better, not just who offer better products.

OK, I’m generalizing, but can anyone, conservative or liberal or anywhere in the middle, really believe that our moral compass is pointing us in the right direction?  Our cruel and polluting food system is a tragedy, yet food companies work to hide that fact (see Food Inc.) and we seem to truly want to be ignorant of where our food comes from;  otherwise we might have to make a moral choice.  Many of us hardly know our neighbors.  We fill our homes with stuff without regard to how that stuff was made or who made it or what will happen to it when we toss it.  We accept layoffs of a thousand people as just the cost of business.  What gives?

Right now, our health care system is an embarrassment.  What we need is a system where everyone is covered and we don’t spend billions of dollars on advertising for prescription drugs or on overhead to run insurance companies.  I know that many people just don’t want to rock the boat, but come on here people.  Medicare and Medicaid spend far less on overhead that any insurance company, yet we think the insurance system we have now just needs a little tweaking?  Maybe this just makes me sound like what conservatives like to disparagingly call a liberal.  If being a liberal means asking questions and thinking about what makes the most sense for “we the people” (remember them?) then I guess I am one. When I hear people criticizing a bill that would help improve our health care system (at least it would move it in the right direction) by denouncing its support of euthanasia, which isn’t even in the bill, then I have to ask, what is wrong with us?

So I get Steinbeck’s ire at a declining sense of morality, of a loss of principles, and that was 50 years ago.  What would he think today?  What would he write today?  Not that it matters.  he was trying to point it out in 1960 and things haven’t changed a whole lot.  Some would say things have gotten worse.  And this brings me back to thinking about my brother.  He has tried to do the right thing and has made lots of sacrifices for his daughter, who is a teenager.  He has lived in his home town his whole life and did not move, although he wanted to, in large part to do as much as he could for his kid.  And now, despite his desires, she is moving with her mother half way across the continent.  That move isn’t right or wrong;  it is the situation to be had.  My brother has tried all along to do the right thing.  I respect him for that.  It often is not easy to do.

In Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, Da Mayor tells Mookie, “Always do the right thing….That’s it.”  That has stuck with me for 20 years.  One can’t really be sure much of time what the right thing is, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to doing it.

Does all this make sense?  Maybe so and maybe not.  It’s what I have to offer from my musings while painting.  I was in the garage, and the circulation was limited, so there may be some fume-addled ideas here.  In any case, it’s what you get, at least for today.

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