Marvin Johnson - Tinkle on a toilet seat and 'Survivor' lead to introspection

OK, I admit it ... I’ve wasted more than a few evenings watching reality TV. This is a difficult admission, as I consider myself unusually rational, and watching reality TV clearly is not a rational pursuit.

So how did this happen?

Well, I went to a “Survivor” party. My expectation was to hang out with people I enjoy and watch them degrade themselves by watching such mindless pap. Within a half hour, I found myself compelled to care about who got voted off. This, of course, required that I watch all the remaining episodes. Why, I wondered?

Then, at a later time, I thought “The Amazing Race” looked entertaining. Just one episode hooked me for the season. Why, again?

Then, one evening at a Trail Blazer game, it hit me when I entered the restroom. In the first stall, I discovered the toilet seat spattered with fresh urine. So I went to the next, the next and the next. Nine stalls, and every seat was dripping. So, after some rigorous cleaning, drying and applying a paper barrier, I finally was able to sit and ponder.

It occurred to me that no one needing to sit in this restroom would be happy about the combination of bad aim and unconcern evidenced by their fellow Blazer fans. And yet, those who did not need to sit apparently felt justified in their spray-and-leave technique. Why?

I believe what connects reality TV to pee on toilet seats is a moral failure termed “incivility.” The dictionary definition includes, “a lack of common courtesy,” but perhaps we soon must change that wording to “uncommon courtesy.” In other words, unconcern for others.

I believe this one moral flaw is at the heart of most, if not all, of our society’s problems. And it usually is manifested as holding others to a standard to which I do not hold myself.

If I see someone peed on the toilet seat and didn’t clean up, I curse them as selfish pigs. “I would never do such a thing!”

If I pee on a toilet seat in the same circumstances, it’s not my fault. “I was in a hurry.”

If someone on “Survivor” tells a lie to get ahead in the game, they are a conniving backstabber.

If I tell a lie, I am merely an excellent game player. I would never be a conniving backstabber.

Meanwhile, the bemused bystander, or TV viewer, watches in amazement and cannot look away. However, the viewer is not innocent in this process, for I believe at least part of the compulsion to watch is grounded in one’s own false sense of moral superiority. “If that were me, I would never do such a thing! Can you believe how rotten they are? They better get voted off. I need to watch and find out.”

Well, perhaps you wouldn’t pee on a toilet seat without cleaning it. However, would you yell at a driver who pulled out in front of you because he didn’t see you? “Stupid jerk,” we cry, perhaps adding the one-finger salute for their edification.

But you’ve been that errant driver and excused it, haven’t you? “Hey, I didn’t see you. Don’t get so mad! What, you’ve never made a mistake?”

So, what’s the point? It’s that we seem to be degenerating rapidly into a post-moral society. Without a common morality, we risk anarchy.

How then, in a pluralistic society, how do we find a common morality?

I’ll make a suggestion. One of the most basic moral principles found in many, if not most, ethical systems — including Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Darwinian evolutionary ethics, Jainism, Objectivism, Sihkism, Zoroastrianism and Humanism — is a ubiquitous principle that goes something like this: “Treat other people in the manner you would like others to treat you.”

Commonly known as “The Golden Rule,” it is not unique to any religion or ideology. Nor is it comprehensive enough to address all the moral questions we each face. However, I think it’s a tremendous start toward a more civil society.

So, I’m just asking you, dear reader, to consider this simple principle when you are tempted, figuratively or literally, to leave the stall untidy. My wife tells me the same problem occurs in the women’s restrooms. (I cannot figure out how that happens, so I remain agnostic on the issue.)

Maybe if enough of us leave the toilet seat clean and dry, it would help resurrect the spirit of civility. If not, then God help us, we may find ourselves living the next “Survivor” episode.

Guest writer Marvin Johnson is an oral surgeon practicing in McMinnville.

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