Statues 3/30/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Yesterday (as of the writing of this post, about a week ago as things go as planned) a memory came up on my social media platform from five years ago. It was an interesting concept, one that compared statues to morals. The post itself was rather more vague than I would have liked, but what can you really do with a paragraph? Maybe, in seven hundred and fifty-ish words, I can expand on the concept a bit.

Who are we if not our morals? It’s our personal morals that dictate our behavior, our reliability, our honesty, our kindness and more. Ethics are socially acceptable norms that tell us that we should put the shopping carts back into the corrals, but it’s our personal morals of behavior that determine whether or not we actually do.

Like statues, people only see what is visible to them when they see us. We all have deeper parts that likely will never be seen by others, so what we choose to show them, like the surface of a statue, is what they see. But as they look at us, they see the corrosion that we bring about by our own actions as well, much as corrosion is seen in statues.

Before the cold war, Eastern Europe was famous for its beautiful Gothic statues. Beautifully carved, incredibly detailed but, unfortunately, made of limestone. When the iron curtain fell, the communist block countries chose to save money by using cheap coal for their power plants. The source of their coal was high in sulfur and nitrogen that, when burned, gave off sulfur and nitrogen oxides. When these gases reacted with water, they formed acids that, for many years, did damage to these beautiful limestone statues. Unfortunately, limestone, being primarily a carbonate, dissolves in acid rain. When the iron curtain again rose and western nations had the first opportunity in decades to get a peak into these Eastern block nations, many were dismayed to see that these statues had eroded so badly. Still vaguely showing a human shape, these statues lost their detail and beauty.

Morals that are low enough to allow for heinous activities does the same thing to those who look at us. As a society, we have finally turned on activities like bullying, violence and narcissism. When we see people engaging in such activities, it is common to view the aggressor as vaguely human, and certainly not attractive.

Some forms of corrosion result in a beautiful statue. The Statue of Liberty, famously green, is actually made of copper. The green color is caused by corrosion of the salt water to which it is constantly exposed. Even though it is considered beautiful, though, it is still corrosion, resulting in the necessity of fixing the statue every so often. The metal begins to erode away and becomes too thin necessitating these repairs.

Some moral looseness is kind of like this form of corrosion. Some activities might make us seem cool, like shoplifting for example. It’s kind of cool to see people with some moral flexibility, and often makes some people wish they could be like that. But this corrosion does affect the person and can often lead to more damage than anticipated. Driving fast, for example, is more likely to result in causing harm to property or even injury to another person. Suddenly, that popular kid that speeds through neighborhoods will look different after that child chasing the ball dies.

This blog is becoming far too preachy than I had wanted. I am not a judge. Thankfully it is not my job to decide what is right or wrong in others. I can only judge what is right or wrong in my own behaviors. It’s worth taking the time to periodically reflect on our own actions and morals. Yes, I do return the cart to the corral, even if nobody is watching. I like thinking about the employee who has to go out in rain and snow to gather those carts. I certainly don’t want to create additional work for this person by forcing them to run around to seek out my shopping carts. I often hold my moral standards far higher than others, and I certainly don’t expect others to live by my standards. That’s hard enough for me to do on my own, why would I want to put others through this? But take some time. Look at your actions, think about your standards. Looking at yourself, do you see the beauty that you would like to? Or does your statue need a little repair work?

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