COLUMN: Where’s north again?

Farm Forum

At the beginning of winter, the horse on my garage weathervane turned frequently to the north. Through cold, blowing months, it sometimes switched to the south, then back north again.

Around February, I noticed that the wind blew from the east a lot. This seemed surprising because east winds aren’t common here.

The garage is east of my window, so when the wind blows from the east, the horse on my weather vane is nearly invisible, appearing as a vertical line.

By March, I realized that the wind could simply not still be blowing from the east, and it finally dawned on me that my iron horse had detached from the four cardinal direction pointers below. Although I thought the wind was blowing from the east, it could be blowing from anywhere.

After the snow melted, I searched for my horse near the garage, but it was gone. Where it blew, I do not know, but it’s not pointing out wind direction on my garage.

A weathervane does no good if it’s broken, and a moral compass is worthless, too, if it is damaged.

In an earlier age, most people could depend on access to reliable moral compasses: their parents, their churches, general values of their community. Most of their friends would not purposely tell them north was east, bad was good.

Now, you have to be wary of coaches, pastors, teachers and close friends. Though there have always been unscrupulous people taking advantage of others, it was easier to avoid pitfalls when so many others around you had their weathervanes in decent shape.

But now, it’s hard to tell whom to trust and who is really out to use you. Who even knows where north is anymore?

Voices tell you that every direction is equally good, that going east off a cliff is just as valid a decision as climbing a slope to your west. It’s your decision. You decide. All results are equal. A life pimping your girlfriend to get your next fix is no worse than a life saving people as a medic. Who’s to judge?

Spending your paycheck carefully in well-planned increments, paying bills, taking care of basic needs, helping a friend, doing what you can to save for emergencies: That’s no better or worse than blowing it all in Vegas.

Advertisers push us, TV writers manipulate us, songwriters blur moral distinctions. Eat less, eat more, be sexy, be yourself, be just like your favorite star. But mostly, put yourself first. Over and over.

Chocolate is often advertised as decadent. Why? Is there something attractive about decay? Would we really want a molding, green, putrid mousse served up from the back of the refrigerator after six weeks? No, but we have marketed moral decay as attractive. Moral decay = positive response. Positive response = buyers. Buyers = money.

Kid characters on TV shows can be bratty, selfish, thoughtless and cruel, and we idolize them. Musicians justify callous arrogance and self-absorption by claiming empowerment. The deep, throaty, in-your-face message, though, isn’t lost.

High government officials can join with sketchy business owners and waste billions of dollars, put lives in danger, or remove long-treasured freedoms, no questions asked. And why are no questions asked?

Worst is when we ourselves need to be pointing due north — while our kids watch — and we swing from west to east and back. Or we pretend the arrow on top is pointing to truth when it’s been missing for a long time.

Donna Marmorstein writes and lives in Aberdeen. You can contact her at