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Navigating Our Culture's Turbulent Waters

So much of our music and films exploits or demeans our human spirit. Those basic values of love, respect, accountability, responsibility and truth seem to have been lost in the storms of daily living.

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So much of our music and films exploits or demeans our human spirit. Those basic values of love, respect, accountability, responsibility and truth seem to have been lost in the storms of daily living.

If you are a young person, how do you navigate the turbulent waters of our culture? How does one deal with the issues of violence, bigotry and lack of respect for people's differences?

Too often, we judge a book by its' cover. We never have the courage to open it up and at least skim the introduction and first chapter. We get distracted by the color and the texture of the book. We evaluate it by the length and the thickness. Rarely do we inquire about what is contained within.

We all have some basic social rules we attempt to live by. For some who are faith driven, those social rules are grounded in the basic principles of their faith tradition. Those who espouse no particular religious tradition are probably grounded in some basic human principles based on goodness.

As adults, most of us would support respectful language when engaged in conversation. We would oppose stealing and cheating. We would expect most adults to be honest and trustworthy and to act responsibly with a profound sense of accountability grounded in integrity.

These basic human principles pre-suppose that all human beings should be treated with respect and dignity. There would be no place for human exploitation or demeaning the character and integrity of another.

Therefore, our speech and our actions are defining behaviors for who we are as people.

These basic principles should shape how men and women treat each other in relationships. They should determine how men treat men and how women treat women in relationships.

Respect, inclusion and tolerance should know no boundaries or obstacles. As human beings, we should treat everyone with the same respect and tolerance we expect to receive ourselves.

Unfortunately, at times we as adults do not model appropriate behavior. We say one thing and do another. Our children, especially our teenagers, don't miss a trick.

Recently, so much has been written about how young adult males treat their female counterparts. There are countless stories of violence and abuse that run the gamut.

What is deeply disturbing is how many young men feel justified in their physical violence and their verbal abuse and bigotry.

Some young men see nothing wrong with hitting a young woman if she is rude or out of control. They feel especially justified when their girlfriend strikes them first.

Many of these same young men believe that if they are in a relationship with a young woman, it is their right to have sex. They feel that the woman has an obligation to fulfill their needs. In short, they believe date rape is okay.

The painful questions to raise are: "Where did our young men develop these attitudes and behaviors? Who taught them that this reprehensible behavior is okay?" Some will blame the media, television, movies and music. The real responsibility needs to be directed at adult males and adults in general. Our children consciously and unconsciously learn what they see from us.

Although most of us would abhor this behavior, how many of us tolerate it by our silence? How many women reading this have allowed their children to witness violence and abuse against them in their own homes?

When confronted, men and women alike feel powerless. It is a symptomatic problem. There are too many areas of our culture that tolerate violence and abuse of all forms. The few who try to speak out and seek justice are often kicked to the curb.

MJ is a beautiful seventeen-year-old high school senior. She is from a great family. She is a good student and athlete. She hopes to go away to college in the fall.

At the beginning of senior year, MJ seemed to pull back from her social life. She became very quiet and almost withdrawn. Her parents, as well as her friends, noticed this behavior. They all confronted her, but she denied that anything was wrong.

Finally, right before graduation, she confided in her guidance counselor. They were talking about the prom and MJ broke down and sobbed. She told her counselor that her junior summer, while on Fire Island, she was raped by a very popular boy, who she thought was her friend. After that, he bragged about it. She had never been intimate before. Although very pretty, her dating experience was very limited. She was devastated.

In the midst of her sobs, she expressed how she could not comprehend how that boy could do what he did to her and then brag about it.

MJ has a summer home within one of Fire Island's western communities. She was walking this boy to the marina after he had had dinner at her home and had been kissing up to her parents. He forced her off the ocean path they were traveling into the woods. He asked her to have intercourse and she refused. After her refusal, he threw her to the ground and forced her.

After he forced himself upon her, she yelled. He screamed, called her terrible names, finished and left her there in the woods crying.

She tried to compose herself. She got back on her ocean path and walked for miles, crying and thinking. She was numb. She could not believe that this so called good guy would do something like this.

MJ was so ashamed and embarrassed that she told no one what happened that afternoon. When school started back again in the fall, she could not believe that he was bragging about their sexual encounter. She then learned more disturbing stuff about Mr. Wonderful - that his nickname was "sex maniac." She realized that she was not the only victim. However, that did not lessen her pain. It only fueled her rage.

She also heard that people had complained about him, but because he was such a good athlete and so well liked, no one believed any of the allegations that were made. When he was finally confronted, he swore it was consensual sex and that the young woman really came on to him first.

MJ was so upset by the way her predator was acting and the things he was saying that she refused to come forward and file a rape charge against him. She did not want to put herself through the humiliation and embarrassment.

This young man's reputation was such that he believed he was "the man" and was above reproach. He really did not see anything wrong with his perverse behavior.

Allegedly, he continues to be flirtatious and aggressive with his female peers with no sense of responsibility and accountability.

MJ's story is tragic because a growing number of young people have no respect for personal boundaries. Sex is not viewed as a behavior attached to a mutual relationship or as an aspect of loving, rather it is seen as a free-for-all activity.

As I listen to a growing number of young people, there are more casualties than we realize who are suffering because of other young people's recklessness and selfishness.

However, there are many respectful young adults among us who are grounded in very positive human values. Unfortunately, at times they get overshadowed by the few who are valueless.

The challenge for us as adults is to continue the conversation, talk about positive human values and lead by example.