Who says what's right and what's wrong?

I was hanging out with my daughter's 6-year-old son (it hurts to say my grandson) the other day, and he did something I didn't like.

"That's not right. That's bad," I said.

I was prepared for the typical kid response: "Why, Poppa?" I would have said, "Because Poppa told you so."

Instead, he said, "Grandma says it's OK. But using bad words like you do sometimes isn't good."

I refrained from attacking his grandma. I lost that battle years ago - hence the divorce.

But the smart (aleck?), little guy got me thinking: What is right and wrong? Good and bad? Really?

Aren't many of the answers people give you when you question them pretty close to, "Do it because Poppa said to"?

The recently concluded Iraq war is certainly a case in point. Our government stated unequivocally that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Other allies weren't so sure.

The Iraqis denied it.

We blew the hell of their country and, lo and behold, no weapons of mass destruction were found. Instead, evidence of a terrible dictatorship that behaved brutally to its people was discovered.

So were we right to ignore most of the world and go in?

In one way, since we stopped the random killing of his own people by Saddam, the answer would have to be yes.

But the reason we went there in the first place, those aforementioned weapons, turned out to be wrong.

There are a lot of people besides my grandson's grandma who believe uttering vulgarities and profanities is wrong. Bad.

I happen to think it's irksome if that's the only language a person can command. Still, there are times when a good curse word, for emphasis, is the only right word.

I'm in that minority of sports fans - along with ESPN columnist Ralph Wiley - who believes that Mike Tyson, however emotionally disturbed he might be, is often trying to be more honest than the average, platitude-speaking superstar.

Recently, there was yet another uproar because Mike said he hated the young woman he was convicted of raping 11 years ago in Indianapolis.

Remember, he was attending some beauty pageant, asked a bunch of girls for dates and one young (18) woman accepted. Later that night she said he raped her.

A jury believed her, and Mike did three years of hard time.

Tyson, who admits to a lot of behavior that the law says is at least borderline illegal, has always denied he raped this woman. He said it was consensual sex.

I don't know; I wasn't there. But I am a firm believer in punishing domestic violence offenders.

But if Mike Tyson isn't lying and didn't rape her, of course, he would hate that young woman. Is that wrong? In fact, even if he is guilty, he served three years of hard time because of her.

I would be angry with her, and I've never even slapped a woman.

I am not condoning Mike Tyson's actions here. What I am saying is that I understand what he said he felt concerning the young lady in question.

People always claim Mike Tyson is bad and wrong. I think he has done some bad things, but he almost always seems to me to be trying to tell folks how he feels. Honestly.

Compare that to the sports stars we all know about who claim to love home, God and country, and eventually pay out millions to silence mistresses, or get stopped driving drunk and are discovered to have drugs and weapons along for their wild rides.

"I'm sorry," they always say.

I almost always think they are only sorry they got caught.
Is that right or is that wrong? The truth is, as usual, gray.

Look at the issue of pro-life and      pro-choice. Both sides are convinced they are right and the other side is bad, immoral or wrong. I'd say each case is different.

Same with the state-sanctioned death penalty. Eye for an eye, or rehabilitation?

I'd say, after counseling convicts, some can't be redeemed and should be dealt with as severely as the law allows, while others are valuable people who simply need some firm guidance before they are returned into society.

But most folks don't want to take the trouble to think about these things individually.

I believe that blanket statements, blanket rules - blind obedience, in other words - are the crutch that often allows governments to become dictatorships, the impulse that doesn't allow people to ever utter anything they truly believe, which ultimately makes all of our lives less real and less interesting.

I'm not sure I could say what is right and what is wrong with any real authority, past the obvious: Don't kill, don't steal, don't prey on the weak.

But I do know what I like and don't like. And you?

Dennis Wilken can be reached via e-mail at needitor@nwlink.com.
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