So, in the middle of the twentieth century the moral culture changed, according to David Brooks. He writes, "Each moral climate is a collective response to the problems of the moment." The new moral culture which prized self-esteem, authenticity, and expression "helped correct some deep social injustices." To illustrate he chooses Katharine Graham.
She was raised in an era when girls were "expected to be quiet, reserved, and correct." The Stepford Wife idea. Her husband belittled her and had many affairs. When he committed suicide in 1963 she was elected president of the Washington Post Company and assumed she'd hold the job for a season before handing it off to her children.
But, she thrived in the job and led the Post to national prominence. The same year she took over the Post, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique.
Graham illustrates why the moral culture needed to change. Under the old culture it was too common that a woman like Graham would not have thrived. Many people needed to develop a higher sense of self. Brooks writes, "The emphasis on self-actualization and self-esteem gave millions of women a language to articulate and cultivate self-assertion, strength, and identity."
Last week I watched When We Rise on ABC (still marveling at that), a miniseries on the LGBT rights movement that focused on Cleve Jones and some of our other grassroots activists in San Francisco. That show narrated the importance of our rise, our self-expression, our demands.
Fortunately, Brooks does not fault either moral climate. He thinks we need balance and to recover some of the value that was lost when moral realism was cast aside. The main reason is that the old tradition gave us a longtested method for the formation of souls.
At its worst the new culture expresses something like these lyrics from High School Musical (which Brooks quotes): "The answers are all inside me/ All I've got to do is believe.
I've never liked that sort of idea, as much as I've embraced liberation and authenticity. Maybe growing up in the more traditional heartland and remaining rooted in the church has helped to push against individualism? My memoir, which I hope to publish this year, is about finding the courage to be my authentic self, but is a story contained within my culture, church, and family. I have navigated a path to losing neither.
In the next post I'll write a little more about the ways he believes we've gotten out of balance.
The previous post in this series was about the change in moral culture that occurred in the 20th century.