How Does Morality Emerge?
How Does Morality Emerge?
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
How enduring is our moral compass? Does it remain the backbone of our decision making about ethics or is it in flux, being influenced by other forces? Morality is set in our thinking by parents, whose beliefs are instilled in us from birth. These ideals, whether based on religion or taught to them as children, are passed on to us through both teaching and example. What is said, believed and shown to us adheres to our psyche like glue and we regurgitate theses ideas when faced with some ethical dilemma.
The question is when does our own moral compass come into being? Is it a combination of what is taught and then what is experienced, or is it something else, something within us that determines how we see the world? I think all these scenarios can be true, but at some point we take a stand and claim our own view, a view we then feel appropriate to pass on to our own children.
My mother was a very just and fair-minded human being and she always instilled in me these ideals, developing a penchant for justice, balance and consideration of others. I understand my nature as an adult has developed from this maternal influence, but ultimately I have developed a moral compass based on what I have found in life, what works and what doesn’t living among human beings. I have found my mother to be right, that respect, consideration and acceptance of people to reach their own conclusions and beliefs is a part of a harmonious and peaceful life.
One could argue that my mother’s influence was the foundation of my conclusions and that I have bowed to conditioning. But convention is not the only influence on developing a moral compass. Today we are confronted with a myriad of mixed messages about morality; through media and imagery that often questions morality. We live in a hedonistic society where appearance and sexuality has become all important for success. This fact has a secondary affect on what morality means.
More aligned with the principles of religion, morality is set by religious writings that list the do’s and don’ts of human behaviour. These rules are indeed the basis of moral convention, but beyond the influence of religion is a personal perspective on a full range of behaviours that influence our lives. We develop as adults based on what we are taught, what have learned through experience and indeed what is expected of us by society. From these influence we develop our own list of rules, and how far we will go given a circumstance.
Until we are confronted by a challenging circumstance, it is unlikely that we know how we will react. For example, if a beautiful woman came up to you and offered herself sexually, could you resist, regardless of marital status? This then questions your moral compass, questions your real belief in what is right and wrong. The irony is that if this liaison had no chance of being found out, most men would agree to it. So what does that mean about the strength of our mortality or character for that matter?
We are perhaps less able to resist temptation when the prise is worth the impropriety. Morality then is a balance between what we think we believe and how far we’re prepared to go for personal gain. The bottom line is that we are weak, not always the stoic beings we think we are.
In the end, morality is not a fixed convention but a malleable set of rules that guide us rather than rule us. Human beings are not without fault and we can be a bad as we are good. There is no room for piousness, when we are so fraught with ineptitude, but we can endeavour to do the right thing where possible. The Moral Compass is a personal objective that only we understand and that people will observe as part of our character. What we then adapt or relinquish is our business alone and ignoring the reality is simply fooling us.