The Shifting Notion of Morality

I sense that our human notion of morality is shifting, perhaps in profound ways.

We used to think of moral behaviour in terms of the ancient codes of don’t do this or that. “If you do that you will be punished.” People were treated as ‘moral agents’ of goodness or evil, angels or demons.

Now, it seems, more people are paying attention to the reasons why people act the ways they do. We have learned a lot about psychology, parenting and personality conflicts and management.

Rather than quickly condemning others, we are better prepared to empathically listen, ask questions and metabolize – “What would I have done if I was this person in this situation?”

It seems that we have learned a great deal about the different lives that we live and we can’t take for granted that everyone is just like us. People clearly have different strengths and challenges.

Yet we still believe there is a common moral code concerning doing no  harm, charity, fairness, loyalty, order and sanctity.

And we have now seen (on media if not in person) how this morality plays out in the behaviors among animals of all sorts — our pets and livestock, and those in the wilderness, even across species. A moral code has some universal foundation.

This often goes wrong, however, insofar as admonishment and corporal punishment miss the point. These are often emotional ‘sledge hammer’ responses to bad behaviour — blunt instruments for the non-discriminating.

Moral correction has to be more surgical and administered from a place of loving and caring. Much of this has been laid out in the psychology of socialization, or how we produce good responsible and compassionate citizens.

The other piece of morality that has been neglected is the positive side. Instead of ‘do no wrong’, why don’t we put more emphasis on doing good? I believe we are all designed to be natural self-actualizing value generators. Let’s embrace that and support one another in this quest.

Published by Randal B. Adcock

Independent author on philosophy and the human condition The ideas expressed in this blog are wholly my own and do not represent the opinions of any other organization or entity.

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