The Many and the One

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For Sunday, April 26, 2015


The Many and the One

David W. Hegg


As we survey the ethical landscape of our society it is clear we have left behind the idea that what is wrong for one is wrong for the many. Rather, we have adopted the viewpoint that “since people are going to make bad decisions anyway, let’s at least see if we can either minimize their consequences, or make money, or both.” Let me put before you 3 examples of what I call "capitulation to the many."


#1: Years ago when teen-age sexual activity was becoming widespread, educators, parents, and governmental officials got together and decided to pass out condoms in high schools. Their point? Kids are going to have sex anyway so we may as well try to keep them from pregnancy and disease.


#2: As I write this I am sitting in Boulder, CO where marijuana has been legal since the first of the year. Despite overwhelming medical evidence that this edible plant creates intellectual and physical chaos in the mind and body Colorado voters determined that folks were going to smoke or eat it anyway, so the state may as well collect the taxes from legal sales. By the way, that's over $1million to date.


#3: Lastly, I spent some time recently with a new startup focused on helping people strengthen their relationships via social media and other technology. When I mentioned the sheer irony of replacing face-to-face interaction with electronic communication as a means of deepening relationship, I was told "that's the way the world works now, so we at least ought to help them do it well."


In each case, society has gone along with the majority even though most agree the majority have chosen a path that is at least second best if not destructive. And why have we done this?


I propose the answer lies in our consumer driven definition of success. For too many, success is expediency rather than excellence Success happens when you reach the most people and have the broadest effect.


But, sadly, this way of thinking bypasses the question of what is best for the individual, to capitalize on what is most expedient for the masses, even if the masses are wrong. A fourth example could be the way large food conglomerates genetically alter our food, and lace it with harmful additives because doing so allows them to produce more and make it keep longer. Yet, we now know it’s killing us as individuals.


Teen-age sexual intimacy is emotionally harmful even if pregnancy and disease don't result. Marijuana poses great health and public safety risks (there is no test to tell if a driver is impaired so wasted people might be driving that car coming your way). And relationships that rely heavily on electronic interaction suffer greatly as study after study demonstrate.


Yet, even though we know these things are damaging to the individual we continue to capitulate ethically to the masses simply because we believe marginally affecting many is better than significantly helping one.


Our perception has to change. We have to stop seeing our society as a mass of unknown subjects and get back to seeing each individual as worth our best efforts. As parents, teachers, coaches, clergy, and government officials we must put our best efforts into guiding individuals to make the right life choices.


The story is told of a young boy walking the shore who spotted a large expanse of starfish. One by one he started his rescue by throwing them back into the ocean. And older man watched a moment and then shouted "you'll never make a difference. There are just too many to save!"


The boy picked up a starfish, returned it to the sea and called to the man "I made a difference for that one!"


It is time we all started making a difference - the right difference - for the ones closest to us. We can't do everything, but we can do something. We can't help everyone, but we can help someone. And those we can help, we should help. And those we should help, by God's grace, we will help. Now, go out and make a difference in a life today.