What do tea baggers, big banks, and the followers of Westboro Baptist Church have in common? A stunted view of morality.
The Tea party waves the flag of individual freedom, personal liberty, free market, and espouses the inalienable rights of individuals.
Westboro Baptist Church feels it has the undeniable right to picket military funerals and carry posters proclaiming, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," while parents are in the midst of burying their children. They claim the individual right of shoving their beliefs into the faces of grieving parents.
After a rampage of greed and self-entitlement on Wall Street that brought the world economy to its knees and required citizens' taxes to bail them out, big banks turned over even greater profits while they dropped the guillotine of foreclosures on homeowners. They are merely asserting their undeniable right to evict borrowers who missed payments. Then we discover banks may be exerting this right by using fraudulent documents, without clear ownership. Alas, inextricably entangled in a web of their own making.
When morality is defined only by individual rights then we create conditions for a culture that's all about "me, me, me," a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is out for themselves. Who cares about the other guy? Why should we care about the less fortunate when I had to struggle? Why should we restrain ourselves and take into account the feelings of grieving parents at a funeral, when we have the right of free speech? Why should we think twice about avaricious and inhumane business practices when we have the right to make money? It's my right to do whatever I want as long I contort myself like Cirque de Soleil gymnast to stay within the limits of the law.
No wonder 30 percent of teens in the US are involved in bullying, either as bully or target of a bully. Look at their role models of posturing in politics, business, and religion. It's my right to say whatever I want and never have to consider how my words or actions might impact others. Apologies, shame, admission of harm--these words are not in the self-righteous vocabulary.
Without a counterbalance to individual rights, we promulgate a care-less, careless culture that cares less about others and carelessly squanders or hoards resources because they think only of themselves.
Decades ago psychologist Carol Gilligan wrote the book, In a Different Voice, where she heard voiced a different morality from individual rights and justice in the women she interviewed. She heard a morality of care and responsibility. This morality considers how our words and actions impact others, a dimension of morality barely heard in the current discourse. Without care, success becomes confused with prosperity, individual rights with entitlement, ambition with avarice, and a pursuit of happiness becomes a demand of happiness. Why haven't you fixed all my problems!
Now, obviously, not all women exercise the morality of care and responsibility articulated by Gilligan, women such as Sarah Palin's Mama Grizzlies, renamed by Maureen Dowd as the Republican Mean Girls. When individual rights implies, "I have mine, you're on your own," it does sound mean, especially when voiced in the snide, belittling, sarcastic remarks we are hearing so much these days. Do mean girls who pitch to tighten government spending mean to make life harder for working moms by cutting away at child care, health care, elder care, after-school care?
When you limit morality to individual rights then you don't watch out for the greater good, nor do you think we need a government to do it either. But a morality that focuses solely on the individual does not consider that the individual is also a citizen in a community, a country, a world, a web of interconnection whose integrity depends on caring for each other as we care for ourselves. One might have imagined that, as Christians, the Mean Girls would have understood and embraced that viewpoint.
Care implies a capacity to empathize, to feel compassion. The capacity to feel these emotions evolves when we are connected to our own frailties and vulnerabilities. Without a sensitivity to one's own vulnerabilities, people become rigid and their capacity to feel compassion becomes stunted.
Do the behaviors of tea baggers, big banks, and the people of Westboro Baptist Church, with their lack of compassion for others, betray a denial of vulnerability in themselves? Have they become hard without realizing they have become rigid in their views of others? Is the source of the mean streak a resentment that no one watched out for them? Are they perpetuating a system by adopting the very behaviors that hardened them in the first place?
Has the espousal of individual rights become a code word for selfishness?
Without care we become care-less and a careless society. We need a feminine sensibility to restore balance to a culture that has gone for too long mucho macho. And we certainly don't need women jumping on that rickety old bandwagon.
There is more to human existence than valuing the individual, independence, autonomy and a morality of rights and justice. We are individuals entwined in a world of relationships that can only be strengthened positively by a morality that cares for others and takes responsibility for our impact on others. Without the feminine counterbalancing the masculine, without care balancing rights, without community balancing individualism, the human spirit languishes as a one-winged creature unable to soar.