Morality and values seem to decline so rapidly that it is even surprising at times to observe. A few decades ago, it was shameful if someone had a divorce in their family, and respect for authorities was a given in practically all aspects of life—toward parents, teachers, police officers, and politicians—attitudes that seem to be outdated in our society today. However, as a general attitude of criticism toward authorities steadily increases, the public makes it more and more a hunting game to find fault in prominent people. Scores of magazines prosper by telling gossip about the “rich and famous,” and the Internet acts as a platform for dragging into public anything from anyone.
One may like these developments or not, but they are by now a fact of life. What is desperately missing, however, are leaders who lead by example—who have a “good report” from the public simply because they live a decent life. Germany is now experiencing exactly this void. German President Christian Wulff has been accused of conduct that, while not necessarily illegal, is seen as highly questionable in terms of moral and acceptable behavior. Half of the German public seems eager to see a leading politician stumble and fall, while the other half is trying to support the President and protect the reputation of his office. Many are discouraged by the perception that Wulff, regrettably, is doing what most politicians today have learned to do: admitting only what cannot be denied anymore—and apologizing for it—while passing the blame to others and refusing to admit any real wrongdoing.
Wulff’s case is particularly sad, because he came to office declaring that he would place the moral bar very high in his own actions, in contrast to his predecessors’. Yet now that he is accused of conduct rather like his predecessors, he says he has learned from his past mistakes and even quotes Scripture, saying “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7)—implying that it would be good for the press to “stop throwing stones at him,” too.
In observing this matter, two problematic aspects stand out. First, the German public is perceiving that in the realm of politics and big business, every powerful leader is a “friend” of the others. So, people do “favors” for each other, hoping or expecting to receive favors in return. Economic leaders “make” political leaders, who in turn help the economic leaders make more money.
Even when such conduct is not illegal, it can raise serious issues of morals and values, which in turn reduce people’s trust and respect for their leaders. And when leaders try to use the authority of their offices to cover up wrongdoing and help their “friends,” the problem is taken to another more serious level. The German public is now more upset about Wulff’s attempts to threaten journalists reporting on his behavior than they are about the behavior itself.
In today’s society, leaders are typically not those with high moral standards; they are just “normal” selfish people who have learned how to use the system for their personal gain. As public figures, however, they serve as role models who in turn influence others who may profess disrespect toward them, but who secretly envy their “success.” This leads to an environment in which people generally distrust their leaders’ conduct, even while hoping to have the opportunity to benefit from such conduct themselves.
Thankfully, to use slogans once made popular by U.S. President Barack Obama, we can have “hope” that “change” is coming! God’s word reveals that a new society will soon be established when Jesus Christ returns. In that society, leaders will earn respect because of their attitudes of selfless service. Yes, it will take supernatural divine intervention to bring about such change, but it will come!
To learn more about the consequences of a society short of character read our Tomorrow’s World article, “Does Character Really Matter?” And for more on how you can change your own life for the better, despite society’s problems, read “Modern Morality and the Ten Commandments.”