Note: This post is not about cycling.
Once upon a time, when I was a sincerely religious child attending Catholic school in London, Ontario, I was confronted with a strange document.
It was in Religion class. Religion had gone from learning arcane rituals for First Communion (which I loved – it was like joining a secret society) and drawing pictures of candles to symbolize our souls to covering the more fraught topics of Sex Ed (I KNOW), Comparative Religions (“Don’t be an asshole about it or anything, but all other religions are wrong and this is why”), and Moral Decision-Making.
I actually think it’s a great idea to teach children to reason morally. Once they are able to question the social norms and the rules they’ve been taught they need tools to form their own senses of ethics. Of course it would be difficult and highly controversial – do you teach virtue ethics or utilitarianism? How do you deal with different religious perspectives on morality? What if all the kids become vegetarians and their parents are livid about it? – but what that is worthwhile isn’t?
But sadly the moral education we got was not exactly ideal. I have a very clear memory from Grade 6 of being given a strange document called:
The STO(M)P Sign
This was our guide to moral decision-making, that when faced with a dilemma we should:
S – Stop
T – Think – how does this affect
O – Others
(M – Myself), then
P – Pray, and make your decision.
Why is the M in brackets, you might ask?
Why, because it wasn’t part of the official worksheet. Our teacher added it in herself.
That’s right, whatever powers that be that control Catholic education in Ontario decided that the needs of 11-year-olds were not important factors in their own moral lives. And if that isn’t fucked up I don’t know what is.
BTW, the next horribly tasteless and damaging document I was handed in Religion class was in Grade 9, when the rage-filled chainsmoking teacher whose name I’ve forgotten gave us the now-infamous Sperm Vs. HIV handout. It implied that, since HIV virii are a lot smaller than sperm, and you can still get pregnant using condoms, then condoms won’t protect you from HIV. (This was in the early 90s, people, just when HIV/AIDS was cutting a swathe through the world. Stay classy, abstinence-only!). In that same class we were shown anti-abortion videos and forced to listen to Jars of Clay. I came out of that class thinking that birth control was unsafe and ineffective and if you had an abortion you’d die. The girl who sat next to me didn’t finish the class, because she got pregnant and dropped out of school.
So why am I writing about this? I suppose it’s because, as I get closer to parenthood, I have been trying to be a more moral person, and as I try to make moral decisions (“Should I tell X about Y? Should I follow the rules in X situation even though I know everyone else is cheating? Should I share that bit of gossip or be classy and not?”) I find myself thinking of the STO(M)P sign and finding it utterly useless, and not just because I’m an atheist now and prayer isn’t helpful anymore.
So for my own use and that of my future child, I present my own moral decision-making acronym:
S – Stop
T – Think: what are my
O – Options, what are my
N – Needs; what are the short-term and long-term consequences for
M – Myself,
P – People I love,
C – my Community,
W – the World in general;
L – Listen to my instincts;
T – Talk to someone I trust;
D – Decide and take
R – Responsibility for the consequences.
STONMPCWLTDR. Not as catchy, of course, but much less likely to fuck with your self-esteem. If you are a Catholic educator and you are asked to use the STO(M)P sign in your class, please feel free to substitute this one instead.