39. Your Moral Isn’t Moral For All

Good morning and welcome to your thirty-ninth meditation. Every conscientious person spends a lot of time thinking about and crafting a moral system that can guide their decisions in life. That system tells us how to behave, dictates what is important to us, and plays a huge role in the type of person we are generally. Each of us has our own unique system, informed by our singular life-experiences. Of course, we don’t simply decide every facet of our moral systems for ourselves. We are born into the moral framework of our families, the social mores of our community, of our culture, and our nation, etc. All of this shared information that we receive early on, and continue to receive into adulthood, forms the building blocks of the moral systems we come to develop for ourselves as individuals.

This is all obvious enough. You may be thinking, “of course each of us learns to be moral from different sources and in different ways.” And yet, we often fail to take these considerations into account when regarding people whose views, traditions, or conduct differ radically from our own. If we have learned that some aspect of social etiquette is important, we can be harshly critical of those who ignore it. If we don’t understand why someone would behave a certain way, we may think that they are crazy or irrational. And if someone holds views that clash with our own, we are often unwilling to hear them out. 

If you are guilty of making judgments like these, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all do it. And it is perfectly natural to do so. When you have learned to see the world a certain way, alternative views can seem plain wrong. Especially if you have taken the time to do the work to really craft a moral system that makes sense to you. But that’s the point. It makes sense to you. The system you have arrived at is based on your unique experience, that only you know how to interpret. No one else could fully understand that. Which is precisely the reason why you can’t fully understand someone else’s moral system. And nor should you be able to. And while you probably wouldn’t think it fair for someone else to judge you harshly for your cherished values that, for you, may be basic tenets of life, it certainly would be no less unfair for you to judge them on similar grounds.

So here’s a suggestion: what if you made it part of your moral system to be open to alternative views, behaviours, cultures? What if a willingness to incorporate the very ideas that you are opposed to into your moral schema was a pillar of how you conceive of morality? Of course this will result in contradictions. But life is full of contradictions so why shouldn’t morality be too? And judging someone who holds opposing views because you can’t understand the complex forces that motivate those views doesn’t seem like a particularly contradiction-free approach to morality either. Remember that having strong values doesn’t mean having finalized values. Individual morality can and should always be challenged and evolve, just as the morality of a nation changes and evolves over the centuries as is expressed in changing laws. The more moral information you let in, the more expansive a moral compass you will have, and the easier it will be to understand and connect with people that are different than you. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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