Are people better today than yesterday?


Are people better today than yesterday?


In terms of scientific achievement, technological progress, life expectancy, range of choices and material abundance, we are vastly superior to any previous society. But our ethical development, moral advancement and spiritual achievement have not kept pace.

We know more, but we are not wiser; we can do more, but we are not clear if we should; we are better off, but we are not better; we have more information, but we have less appreciation; we have conquered what is distant, but we have not mastered what is close at hand.

Human nature has not improved over the ages.

Surely, there is today at least as much greed, pride, betrayal, narcissism, aggression, disloyalty, prejudice, hypocrisy, hate, cowardice and apathy as ever before. We are hardly more forgiving, tolerant, compassionate and selfless than people of generations past.

Do we keep commitments better than our grandparents? Are we more trustworthy than our ancestors?

So many today choose pleasure over responsibility and personal benefit over the common good. Boundaries and limits disintegrate before the onslaught of relativism.

There are three conclusions that guide behavior: right, wrong and “everybody does it.” Surely, we are not more able than our forebears to resist temptation. There has been an astonishingly rapid eclipse of the very idea that there are shared moral norms. We emphasize feeling good over doing good. In a society of plenty, awash in physical splendor, there is an emptiness, a hollowness within. Many young people exhibit hopelessness.

Yes, there is a visible proliferation of houses of worship, but are they facades for many who make a pretense of piety? Yes, religiosity is more visible, but so much suffering and pain remain invisible to us, by our choice.

Is our spirituality mirrored in Mark Twain’s description of the Platte River? “A mile wide and an inch deep.”

People may more vocally espouse “religion,” but what of a commanding and demanding faith? And, though we have at our disposal ever more efficient means of communication, are we speaking from our hearts and telling the truth?

It is a wise commentator who observed: “We have learned to swim the oceans like fish, to fly in the sky like birds, to sail through space like satellites. Now, let us learn to walk the earth as human beings.”

If only we were as good as we think we are!

Mark S. Miller is rabbi emeritus at Temple Bat Yahm

in Newport Beach.

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