Focusing on the wrong things

Published 10:08 pm Monday, March 13, 2017

By Joseph L. Bass

I wonder how many think America is off track.

Sometimes it is easy for small negative changes to take place that no one notices. I fear some changes have undermined the importance of good character and responsible behavior.

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During my long years, a major change has occurred almost without notice. Is it okay for government and society to judge a person as bad who has no intent to harm someone and does not harm anyone?

We have major social problems. We are not identifying and addressing their root causes but chasing after resulting symptoms. Attempting to only fix the symptoms isn’t working, and we have become desperate, enacting laws that make good people criminals when they have no intent to do harm and do no harm.

When I was a child and a young man, a person’s character and behavior were all-important factors in others’ judgment of them. If I did right things, I was judged a good person. If I did wrong things, I was judged a bad person.

I was judged on the basis of my intent to do good or bad and my actions.

Judging a person was based on the 10 Commandments. If I honored my father and mother through good behavior and honesty, I was a good person. I was judged a bad person if I murdered someone, committed adultery, stole something or bore false witness against another and so on. A wrongful behavior was done with intent to hurt someone.

Today this is not the case. We have become so desperate to deal with social problems that we have abandoned the importance of the quality of a person’s character and his or her behavior. We require that individuals surrender freedoms and civil rights because of the intent and behavior of a few bad people.

Consider the difference between when I was young and today. From my earliest elementry years I carried knives to school. There was no intent to do harm. Knives were (and still are) useful tools. I carried knives onto commercial airplanes. One time I opened a difficult package with my knife for a flight attendant and was awarded a free bottle of wine in appreciation for being helpful.

Today actions I carried out safely and responsibly would get children expelled from school or, in some cases, arrested and jailed. This can happen even though they intend no harm and do no harm.

A traveler must give up his or her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure to board a plane. For decades, law abiding citizens carried knives and handguns onto commercial aircraft, having no intent to do harm and not doing any harm.

Today, we herd ourselves like sheep into TSA search lines for an activity that is known to be ineffective in finding objects that are harmless except in the hands of bad people.

In our desperation to address social ills we have undermined the value of good character and behavior. In terms of our freedoms and civil rights we have allowed ourselves to be reduced to the same low level as the few bad people that do harm.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at