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Just be decent
A society does itself no good when it accepts behavioral pathologies as the cost of doing business to get extraordinary performance. That much really should seem self-evident, but contrary examples just pile themselves higher and higher. Whether it's the performing artist with 50 years' worth of prison sentences to serve for crimes against children and other offenses, the billionaire who impulsively feuds with and mocks employees, or the losing politician who salves his wounded ego by selling "retribution" as his brand, we make a giant cultural mistake in elevating people who are guided by their worst impulses.
■ Becoming a decent adult requires effort, yet virtually everyone is capable of rising to the standard. Regrettably, though, some people leverage their shortcomings into perverse advantages; take, for instance, the political liberation that comes with adopting an attitude of shamelessness. People remark about the apparent superpower of shamelessness, but decent people seem ill-equipped to put that pathological behavior back in its place.
■ If someone isn't well-adjusted by the time they reach adulthood, the rest of us don't need to amplify anything they say or do. That's the only effective way to respond. Isolation, silence, starvation of attention -- those are the reactions that serve to put pathological behavior in its place.
■ It can be hard to do, of course. Social media in particular encourages the frequent exercise of the outrage impulse. But the notion of enlarging the gap between stimulus and response is a mighty one for cultivating better behavior. Most animals don't connect events that happen far apart; if you want to punish a dog for stealing a steak off the dinner table, you might swat him on the nose immediately. It would be cruel to delay the punishment and impose it when the animal has no hope of making the connection.
■ But people can choose to wait and to execute on their feelings later on. As Warren Buffett so sensibly puts it, "You can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow". It's advice that too many people in high-profile situations still need to learn for themselves. But it's also advice that ought to guide how we -- as a society -- respond to those individuals who refuse to grow into being well-adjusted adults.
[Originally published in the Evening Post & Mail on March 9, 2023]
Real people aren’t set in stone