I listen to upbeat, happy 80s music in the morning when getting ready. For a long time I would just bring my phone into the bathroom and perch it safely on the edge of the sink while blaring my music. But after water got into my phone, I spilled makeup on it, and it almost landed in the toilet I decided to improve this situation. I broke down and bought an Amazon Echo which is safe and sound in my bedroom and plenty loud. When getting ready this week I heard a song begin, “I’m gonna make a change, for once in my life.” It was Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” I thought, “Oh no! I don’t want to listen to this!” (In light of more disturbing details coming out about him.) So I said, “Echo, skip” She did, only to begin playing, “It’s close to midnight, and something evil’s lurking in the dark.” “Thriller.” “Are you serious, Echo? Echo, SKIP!”
So, my happy, upbeat 80s music morning jam session has turned into a moral quandary. I don’t know what to do with hearing Michael Jackson songs anymore. Or seeing movies produced by Harvey Weinstein. Or buying products from companies with bad business practices. And on and on.
This moral conundrum reminded me of a recent episode from a show I enjoy called The Good Place. In the show, there’s the Good Place (heaven) and the Bad Place (hell.) (This Week’s Thoughts will ruin Season 1 for you, and I’m very sorry about that, but it’s too good of an example not to use.) Anyway, a group of 4 humans wind up in the Bad Place and are trying to get into the Good Place. The system is set up that there’s an Accounting Department in the afterlife and all of us get points throughout our lives for the good and bad things we do. If we earn enough points, we end up in the Good Place. Except it’s discovered that no one has gotten into the Good Place for the past 500 years! At first, Michael (the demon who ends up helping the humans, played by Ted Danson) thinks that the Bad Place has somehow rigged the points system. But he discovers that actually there’s unintended consequences to well-intentioned actions.
For instance, in 1534 a man gave his grandmother roses for her birthday. He picked the flowers himself, walked them over to her house, and she was happy. +145 points. A man did the same thing in 2009 but he used his cell phone to order the flowers which was made in a sweatshop, the flowers were grown with toxic pesticides, picked by exploited migrant workers, delivered from thousands of miles away which created a massive carbon footprint, and the money the man spent on roses for his grandma went to a billionaire CEO who sends inappropriate pictures to female employees. -4 points! Michael muses that every day the world gets a little more complicated and being a good person gets harder.
Honestly it is hard to be a good person because everything we do has consequences, often unintended ones. Carbon footprints. Fair labor laws. Daily ethical treatment of fellow human beings. It’s all complicated, and I wish there were easy answers to be the best people God created us to be and do no harm to one another or this world. I suppose these are modern questions about what it means to be human. And we have to wrestle with them the best we are able, keeping in mind Jesus’ commandment to love God, one another, and ourselves. (Though selfishly I’m hoping that writing these weekly thoughts gets me at least +500 points for the Good Place!)
(This Week’s Thoughts 3.28.19)