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The strength to say no

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

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Searching for a particular television program, it's easy to slip into some kind of story – a sitcom or movie or talk show – that portrays sexual encounters of all kinds as inevitable and acceptable. Whether the promoters call it fantasy or real-life drama, the couples involved are often married to someone else, and it hardly seems to matter. The bottom line, if you believe some writers and producers, is that the public is getting what it wants, and TV merely mirrors behavior standards of our culture.

Viewers can, of course, turn the TV off. People can also challenge the assumption that morality is based on what everybody does or everybody wants. No one says it's easy to adopt an uncompromising code of behavior when it comes to moral issues, whether these involve a decision to cheat on an exam, borrow a car without permission, lie to the IRS, or have a sexual affair.

Years ago, when I was a teenager, I was impressed with this statement: "Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul." I no longer know the author's name, but this message had such a ring of individuality and courage that I wrote it in all my notebooks. At that time, a good many college students were conforming to experimental sexual standards (Do whatever you want!) but I was certain I would never give in to that kind of lethargy, any more than I would cheat on an exam.

Also, I had always accepted Bible teachings, including, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and "Do to others as you want them to do to you" as basic and to be obeyed.

So it was a surprise to me when I was suddenly in a situation where I very much wanted to conform to what everyone else was doing, and my personal morality seemed no better than a sweet philosophical theory.In my junior year in college, I was a guest on a 10-day cruise. The first evening, I met a delightful couple. The husband and I discovered we had the same interests in academia, in language, in music, and in drama. He was bright and charming; I was naive and flattered by his increasing interest in me. The two of us spent hours talking and walking the decks.


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