Every year, every decade, every generation brings with it societal-level questions that are complicated and unsettling legally, socially, politically, morally, and ethically. The U.S. has had to confront some of its thorniest and deeply disquieting societal issues and questions since its founding.
For instance. . .
From 1787 until 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, African Americans were legally considered only 3/5ths of a human being.
It wasn’t until 1968 that state and local laws banning interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional.
And, it wasn’t until 1974, with the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, that women were allowed to open a bank account on their own, without a male co-signer.
Big change doesn’t happen quickly and rarely in a straight line. People make deeply held and passionate arguments for and against change. Public opinion moves in one direction and then in another. There are people who will do anything to prevent change and there are others who will do anything to hasten its arrival. No matter the topic or issue.
However, as we look back on big, societal-level change that speaks specifically to how we treat and care for each other, there is at least one lesson to be learned:
Over the course of large swaths of time, significant change that impacts the social, legal, political, sexual, ethical, and moral order almost always moves in the direction of liberalization. As a society over time, we become more generous in the application of our ethics, more broad-minded in our sense of morality, and more humanistic in our treatment of others.
In the moment, it doesn’t always feel that way. And institutional and organizational leaders sometimes struggle with how to respond when day-to-day rules, regulations, and policies must be crafted and applied.
But, when big societal changes are being considered, it’s worthwhile to understand that, over time, outcomes will move toward those involving greater collective empathy, not less.
As we all sort through the prickly and perplexing gender, sexual, racial, ethnic, and political changes we are tasked with addressing today, it might be helpful to remember that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
It also might be helpful to look back on the decisions made by past generations and reflect on how objectionable and inconceivable we now find them.
History does and will judge.