Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Death of Integrity?

Conserve. Go Green. Reduce, reuse, recycle. We are bombarded with this message wherever we look. Do you remember the Keep America Beautiful public service announcement in the early 1970s? The commercial featured a Native American Indian crying a single tear when looking upon a polluted landscape. Trash is thrown from a speeding car and lands at his feet. The announcer sternly and memorably declares: "People start pollution; people can stop it."

Visit the zoo and you are implored to protect animals from extinction. Save and protect injured or orphaned wild animals. Adopt a gorilla. Donate money to the World Wildlife Conservation fund. Save the whales. The pleas are endless. “The World Society for the Protection of Animals is doing their best but they need more help if these poor creatures are to be saved.” We worry about plants, the environment, animals; however something toxic is seeping into our moral landscape.

If you witnessed a murder, would you try & stop it? Would you at least call 911? In the 1960's, no one helped Kitty Genovese, a New York City woman who was stabbed to death near her home. “The circumstances of her murder and the supposed lack of reaction of numerous neighbors were reported by a newspaper article published two weeks later; the common portrayal of neighbors being fully aware, but completely nonresponsive has later been criticized as inaccurate. Nonetheless, it prompted investigation into the social psychological phenomenon that has become known as the bystander effect and especially diffusion of responsibility.”

In the 1930's, millions sat back while Jews were herded to concentration camps. “After 1939 with the beginning of the Second World War, concentration camps increasingly became places where the enemies of the Nazis were enslaved, starved, tortured and killed. Millions of prisoners died in the concentration camps through mistreatment, disease, starvation, overwork or were executed as unfit for labor. More than three million Jews died in them. Near the end of the war, the camps became sites for horrific medical experiments. Female prisoners were routinely raped and degraded in the camps. The camps were liberated by the Allies between 1943 and 1945, often too late to save the prisoners remaining."

In the 1990's, the world sat back while hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in Rwanda. “The official figures published by the Rwandan government estimated the number of victims of the genocide to 1,174,000 in 100 days (10,000 murdered every day, 400 every hour, 7 every minute). Thousands of widows, many of whom were subjected to rape, are now HIV-positive. There are about 400,000 orphans and nearly 85,000 of them have become heads of families. According to recent commentators the news media played a crucial role in the genocide: local print and radio media fueled the killings, while the international media either ignored or seriously misconstrued events on the ground. Despite emphatic demands from UNAMIR's commanders in Rwanda before and throughout the genocide, its requests for authorization to end it were refused and its intervention-capacity was even reduced.”

Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, Kitty Genovese’s murder, genocide in Rwanda…. Each of these tragic situations could have been averted if good people had intervened earlier. There is another death happening today. Our consciences are being attacked. Our character is being slayed; our integrity wounded & bleeding. We are still experiencing the “bystander effect”, as we wait around to see who will accept responsibility. Who will take responsibility for the death of integrity?

On June 2nd, while exercising at my gym, Lifetime Fitness in Mason, I was appalled when a music video displaying scantily clad young women rubbing up against one another in a dance club, appeared on a screen. I immediately called over an employee and pointed out the video. The camera focused on the women’s breasts and buttocks while they were on a beach, and then zoomed in even closer as they danced with one another provocatively. The Fitness employee agreed with me that the video resembled a pornographic film, however he seemed unwilling to do anything to rectify the situation. When I asked who might be responsible for the content displayed on the facility’s screens, he was unsure. He then stated that if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to watch it. When I said I didn’t accept his answer, he suggested that a comment could be made to the manager of the gym.

I found the manager, and attempted to discuss the situation with him. He was incredibly dismissive and unhelpful. He said he wasn’t responsible, and when I pressed him to tell me who WAS responsible for choosing the content of the music videos, he said the corporate office chose them. He declined to help me contact the corporate office, and when I pressed for more information, he replied, “I guess you can look that up on our website.” I went home and looked up the website (because the manager did not provide me with any contact information), and proceeded to send an email detailing my experience and asking to be contacted. Three weeks went by, and no one, including the manager of LifeTime, followed up with me. I went into the facility to cancel my membership, and was asked by the Front Desk Supervisor to wait another 24 hours while she contacted both the manager and the corporate office.

Another FORTY EIGHT hours passed, and the following day, I went in to cancel my membership again. At this time, I learned that since I was now in another calendar month, I was going to be charged for that month even though I declined to use the facility any further. Although two voicemail messages were left for the manager of the Mason facility, he failed to ever follow up with me, nor did anyone from the corporate office follow up.

I loved my gym. I worked out there four to five times a week. I’ve been a member since they opened in Mason two years ago. I have raved about their facility to numerous friends, and as a result, many of them became members. The cardio equipment is top notch, the strength training machines are well maintained, the pool is beautiful, the locker rooms are always clean, and the class offerings are plentiful. Lifetime is clearly committed to improving the health and fitness of those in the community. However, equally obvious to this observer, they do not care about the moral health and well being of those within their circle of influence. When I lamented to the Front Desk Supervisor about the inappropriate content of the music video, she shared that I was not the only one who had made a comment. However, her understanding is that apparently the corporate office wants to appeal to the “diverse” population that belongs to their 85 facilities nationwide. Evidently, “diversity” under their definition equates with “crudity”. Why must we lower our standards in order to diversify?

Is integrity dying? Does character matter? Does morality matter? When people groan over “society today”, do they ever ask themselves what role they play in its decline? Edmund Burke is credited with saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The content of the music video I saw at Lifetime was evil. It was appalling. The behavior of the young women was not only inappropriate, it was repugnant and not something I wish to observe or have my daughters emulate. I want my girls to know that the content of their character is of vastly greater importance than the size of their breasts. I want to be known for what I believe and not for my appearance. Sadly the gym appears to care more about what is on one’s outside than the whole person. I will miss that facility. It means a sacrifice in several ways. I’m sacrificing $140 for a service I’m not even going to use during the months of June and July, and I’m sacrificing great basketball courts, rock climbing walls, equipment, etc. However, these sacrifices are minute in comparison to sacrificing my integrity, my character, and my soul. Integrity will not die today.


hollie renn-ohmer said...

That was the most moving letter that I have ever read. You are an amazing writer and if more people would view the world as you do, we would have iternational peace. Instead we are killing each other with our words and our actions and society is standing around and letting it happen. Everyday we hear of how many people were killed over night. The news speaks of it as if it were the weather forcast. "Three dead today, and high of 85 degreees tomorrow". We as a society have lost the meaning and appriciation for life.We can not fight this battle as one. To win this we have to fight together as a society. Instead of saying "I can't believe that is happening". We need to say "this is my country and I will not allow this to happen". Our children, parents and spouses are fighting at war for our safety while we are over here killing each other like it is just another day. This counrty does not have a chance unless we stand as a united front and fight against all that is evil together. God bless you Susan for putting into words what has been in my heart for years.

markputman said...

Thank you for standing up for your principles, even when you had to give up something you had enjoyed. In the long run, it is worth it. It is the only way we can look at ourselves in the mirror with any integrity.