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That Viral Subway Photo Is Great, But Shouldn’t Decency Just Be Normal?

jta

After I saw this week’s viral photo of the Hasidic couple and the nursing Muslim mother, I thought, “Aww, that’s so awesome.” I too, am touched when people are good people just because. I could imagine posting something like that with a caption similar to the original:

“A Taoist (me) gives up his seat so a Hasidic couple could sit together. They scoot over so a Muslim mother could sit and nurse her baby, on Easter Sunday.”

This is my America: people letting people be people.”

These displays of basic human decency shed light on the character of our society—who we are and who we are not. And today, that stuff matters. A lot.

We currently live in a country whose governing power sees human lives as secondary; or rather, some human lives. For example, last week, President Trump decided to drop “the mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan. Yesterday, regarding North Korean provocations, Vice President Pence pronounced that our “swords are ready.” I also read that Attorney General Sessions promises a “new era” of justice in which he “plans to crack down on drugs and immigration while resuscitating the harsh sentencing laws that have given the United States the world’s highest incarceration rate,” according to a recent article in Vice. A new era of justice, indeed… but for whom?

Oh, and did you hear about Trump defunding Planned Parenthood? No, it’s not just about abortions; it’s an organization dedicated to providing women with basic, accessible healthcare.

In this environment, I think it’s fair to say that regard for all human lives can no longer be taken for granted. So, when we see acts of everyday, commonplace kindness—like the couple on the subway making room for the mother and her baby—they seem almost out of place. But to me, this means that the bar for human decency is just at an all-time low, and that we no longer can assume that our fellow citizens will do the “right” thing.

Sure, everyone has varying opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong, but there was a time (wasn’t there?) when the idea of human decency prevailed over those variances. There was a time when our values and ideas of “right” were more or less symmetrical: Make room for people. Coexist. Live and let live.

The fact that this photo went viral is great. We need these kind of reminders. But if you go beneath the surface, what does this reveal about us, right now, in 2017? What does it mean when being a mensch is such a rarity that it is, in fact, deemed “awesome” by thousands of people on the internet?

I think it means we’ve gone backwards, to a pretty desperate place.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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