Part One - The link between capitalism, declining religion and selfish deceitful behaviour...
I've previously revealed on this blog what makes people prone to lying and cheating - A recent study concluded that a culture of everyone else does it and a lack of moral guidelines in society today, such as was once offered by religion, combine to make us less concerned for the wider consequences of our deceit, and less self aware - for instance, of the impact on our own sense of personal integrity.
The study suggested this was the real reason behind the banking crisis which has brought whole countries to their knees and threatens to continue to destabilise economies for the foreseeable future. Changing the faces in charge won't help, you need to change the culture, researchers concluded.
The Thatcherist view of people who felt a strong sense of obligation to always play by the rules was kind of "more fool you". Her ideology, and in fact the broad position of capitalism, is you're either a winner or a loser in life - if you don't snatch it for yourself, then somebody else will, there is no point concerning yourself with what's fair or ethical or humane. For all the good New Labour did, they did nothing to challenge that perception of society and that perception of humanity. People are as selfish today as they were in the 1980's, perhaps even more so.
A steady decline in faith over the last one hundred years has without doubt left a hole in the fabric of our communities, with nothing comparable to take it's place, to take on the role of encouraging people to consider the consequences of their actions. What has taken its place is a worshipping of money for its own sake and a worshipping of celebrity and a worshipping of big brand labels - to the degree that some people even name their babies after these labels, as parents might have once named their children after saints ; I've heard people proudly declare their child is called Nike, Reebokka and even "Big Mac".
This is perhaps capitalism at it's most successful... and to the detriment of all of us because society can't evolve in an emotionally healthy way within that sort of culture.
Another issue raised from this study was that when people had the opportunity to confess to their previous cheating and lying and felt forgiven for their wrongdoing and had the chance to turn a new page that seemed to have a positive affect and for a period they didn't return to the deceitful behaviour - it is as if they got genuine enjoyment from being absolved and they wanted to hang onto that feeling - for a while at least. Participants who never had the opportunity to draw a line under their lying and cheating just continued with the deceitful behaviour - there seemed to be no internal regulator, no reason to just stop.
This was perhaps the benefit of confession for previous generations - most of us don't have access to anything like that in our modern lives. The challenge for all of those of us who want a fairer, more compassionate, more ethical society is how we could introduce some sort of facility for people to come clean, without fear of blame or punishment, to allow the selfish, negative behaviour to be kept in check more.
Promoting religion and building a load of confessionals in every town is probably not the answer for modern society. The church itself has been exposed as lacking moral integrity too many times and that hypocrisy is no doubt part of the reason for this trend of turning away from religion.
Part Two - How we could start to address and improve things...
The area of personal development could offer part of the answer though. Personal development is about broadening and deepening our understanding of who we are as people and the impact things around us have on us and the impact we in turn, have on others. It helps us gain insight into the way we relate to others and the way they relate to us. It can be used in our professional lives - as a mechanism for team building and enhancing our interpersonal communication skills, but it can also be applied to our personal lives - in the way we relate to our partners and our children, to achieve a more harmonious family life; it's a way of keeping us psychologically fit and healthy so that we can get on with the things we need to do and enjoying the things that give us a sense of fulfilment in life.
Bookshops and department stores are filled with "self help" books - over 13 million of them are sold each year, mostly to women it has to be said, but slowly more men are getting interested in this area too because ultimately, almost all of us are on some sort of quest to be happy in life...
That's books of course but what we need to look at, I think, is a way of offering people the opportunity to have group or one to one sessions with a professional mentor who can allow participants to just talk about the things that are going well and not so well in life. Not therapy, this wouldn't seek to get into why someone was feeling the way they were - perhaps anger at their boss or disappointment in their son - it would just be a safe and confidential setting to sit down, with perhaps a cup of tea, and just offload a bit, say once a month, and then to go back to normal life having got some stuff off your chest.
Once upon a time families would have offered these opportunities naturally, every community would have had people in it who were kind, good listeners, someone to just have a bit of a moan to. They didn't solve anyone's problems, or even offer advice most of the time, they just provided an opportunity to get the words out instead of holding onto so much negative stuff.
I think we all have enormous pressures and stresses placed upon us now - at work particularly and at school certainly and even within the home environment. There is more need than ever for us all to have someone to talk to when we need it, as I say, not counselling as such, just someone giving you the time of day to talk about what you're coping with, the opportunity to say yeah I shouldn't have done that really... and move on...
With nothing else on the suggestions board right now, it's got to be worth considering, surely?