When Did Bad Behavior Become The Default Setting In America?

This story illustrates both ends of the spectrum of personal ethics in everyday American life. A morality play set in a Midwestern Dairy Queen. This young man’s kindness and generosity are praiseworthy. But national news?

Why do we simply accept the douchebag’s thievery as a backdrop? No one seems surprised in the least that she would pocket the money, and without shame. Has bad behavior become the norm in our society – the default setting for the American character?

No? Well when was the last time you were shocked – or even mildly surprised – by bad actors in baseball? cycling? football? any professional sport? Unscrupulous dealings on Wall Street? Ethical breaches in Congress? Police brutality? Child rape? Celebrities breaking laws with impunity? Con men preying on the elderly? Animal cruelty?

Even the stories that still have the power to stop us cold seem, in the end, to reinforce our acceptance of the status quo. Columbine. Fort Hood. Virginia Tech. Oak Creek. Tucson. Aurora. Newtown. Navy Yard. Gun violence has become a news story template; only the venues and body counts change. After each massacre, for a long moment our collective response is “This must end!” But almost immediately, that cools to a shrug of the national shoulders. “Nothing ever changes.”

We’re not surprised when the woman steals the blind man’s money… and we’re not surprised when our star athletes dope… and we’re not surprised when priests rape children… and we’re not surprised when people in a movie theater or a mall or a church or a campus or a base are gunned down… or when kids in a first grade classroom are massacred in cold blood. We hate it. But it no longer surprises us. We’ve come to expect it. And that is the definition of normal.

There will always be a good-hearted kid who will replace a stolen $20 with his own money, or a teacher who will use her body to shield her students, or a good cop who will intervene with a bad cop. But when the good guys are the breaking news, America is broken.

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