Published in the Courier Mail 25 May 2004
FOOTBALLERS are behaving badly. While that’s no surprise, I have to admit being slightly perplexed at the nationwide uproar we’re seeing.
Seriously, when have we ever been so worried about rights and wrongs? And morality? Please, that was so last generation. We are the generation who can choose our own values, who can decide what is right for us and then live our life accordingly.
We proudly throw off the hindrances of previous generations, and revel in the freedom from religion and the strict moral code it placed upon us. For goodness sake, we didn’t really care when the president of the US had an extra-marital affair with a young intern. Does it really matter whether Willie Mason swears and draws rude pictures, or Mark Gasnier leaves an obscene voice message?
Does it matter? And if it does, why does it matter? Why should they be sacked from the Origin side? It’s not like they killed anyone.
A fascinating social phenomenon is taking place at the moment, played out on television, talkback radio and in print, right across our nation.
We are in danger of becoming hypocrites. Suddenly, we seem to care about personal morality.
Personal morality, how and why we respond to situations the way that we do, is at the centre of our being.
It determines whether we return the extra change we have mistakenly been given, or whether we spread a delicious rumour at work, even though we know it to be untrue.
It determines how we treat each other and how we conduct ourselves. It is something that the church has long been publicly ridiculed for addressing.
Sabina Nowak, a member of the Australian Bisexual Network and Bi Pride Australia, said: “I believe the church needs to move away from personal morality questions that it cannot control and focus on those in which it can — such as the abuse within its own ranks.”
While we would all agree that abuse within church systems is intolerable, Nowak’s comments bring this present issue into perfect focus.
Personal morality is the basis of everything that happens. We cannot separate it from anyone’s actions, be they priests or not.
The fact that abuse happens within our culture compels us as a society, including the church, to engage with the issue of personal morality.
All actions are the results of individuals’ world views. Leaving aside mental illness or neurological influences, which can be modified by medical intervention, our behaviour is governed by our personal morality.
Therefore, to truly engage with a behavioural issue, we must discuss the system of belief or the personal values that influence the decisions we make. When we do this, however, we get into the messy area of right and wrong and whose opinion carries more weight when two opinions conflict.
Without some kind of external determinant of what acceptable morality is, we have no way for dissenting voices to reach a consensus.
We don’t like to take the debate about personal morality to the public arena, because it’s “private”.
Our choices are our own business and society shouldn’t censor us. Politicians regularly bring out this argument when they want to loosen legislation that pertains to “moral” issues.
Prostitution often is justified by the fact that it is a private act between two adults, and society shouldn’t get involved because it does no harm to others.
But what if a married man contracts a sexually transmitted disease from a visit to a brothel and then passes it to his wife? Just how private is our private behaviour?
Let’s face it, what civic leader wants to start the debate about personal morality? It’s incredibly unfashionable, highly inflammatory and guaranteed to offend.
We have placed moral relativism on such a high social pedestal it’s almost untouchable.
Almost — until footballers start signing the wrong name on an autograph, or getting drunk and making sexually suggestive comments.
Then we unanimously agree that it’s unforgivable.
And so, because we lack the desire to really engage with a messy issue, we tear down young men with venomous public opinion.
Young men, well-schooled in self-gratification, rather than self-control, are now being ridiculed by the society that helped form them.
Why are we concerned with the personal morality of our sporting stars, and not our captains of business?
Why are we concerned with Willie Mason and Mark Gasnier, and not with ourselves?
Perhaps the social pendulum is starting to swing back towards moral conservatism.
Or maybe it’s just easier to point the finger rather than looking within ourselves.
Either way, it’s worth taking some time out to consider.