Whose Morality?


Sometimes my brain runs in overdrive. I feel as if I have drunk several energy drinks or a couple of espressos, but I haven’t. My head stays full of so many of the stories that saturate our lives that my brain refuses to take a time out. I spend a lot of time thinking about the differences of opinions and beliefs among our population. Keep in mind that I refer only to my American experience, not the cultures of other countries. If I thought about those in addition to my own cultural experience, my poor brain would explode.

Most of the issues that bewilder me concern moral, ethical, spiritual, and legal matters. Of these, the law seems simplest because of its literal nature. Even so, legal experts disagree sharply on the interpretation and application of those laws. One of my difficulties relating to law involves the concept of justice. If justice is the goal of the law, how often does it achieve true justice? (Consider socio-economics, demographics, plea bargains, technicalities, etc.).

I spend most of my time contemplating the other three categories: moral, ethical, and spiritual matters. I actually cannot separate them in my own mind although I realize they differ in some aspects. They comprise a trinity in my soul because my entire life has aspired to make moral and ethical choices that complement my spiritual self. I naively once thought everyone else shared my viewpoints, but adulthood abruptly taught me that not all people share my philosophy. 

What, then, makes us so different from each other? I found some possible answers at an Abilene Interfaith Council meeting in which Dr. Dan Stiver (theologian) and Dr. Tom Copeland (psychologist) presented a program entitled “Moral Disgust.” They pointed out several factors that could contribute to individuals’ contrasting values and judgments. Obviously, many aspects of life influence individual circumstances (physical, mental, social, environmental, historical, and cultural, to name a few), impacting people differently, depending on their unique situations.

For example, as a white female, born in Arkansas in 1950, to poor, relatively uneducated parents, my childhood differed greatly from that of a Black female born in the same year and county. Consider another child born the same year to wealthy, educated parents in New England. The mere serendipity of parentage has an enormous impact on a person’s value system which then becomes the foundation for spiritual, moral, and ethical decisions.  

Each child learns from the home what he or she must do to survive or thrive. I discerned early in my life that pleasing my parents made my life easier, so I spent my childhood trying to do everything “right,” according to their values. I constantly worried that I would not please them, so security and praise became my goals. 

That Black female born at the same time and place but to Black parents might have placed safety paramount in her life. Rather than seeking praise for good behavior, she might have sought safety by exhibiting meekness and compliance. Therefore, this young girl’s life perspective would differ from mine.

When you factor in socio-economic conditions, values become even more complicated. A poor person has a different perspective on employment than a wealthy person. The poor person will not have the choices and opportunities afforded to the wealthy person. These people might evaluate social programs in completely different ways from their wealthier counterparts.

Now, add culture to the ingredients that comprise a human being. Immigrants from Vietnam in the 1970s left their home country to save their lives. Many immigrants from Africa and Central America have fled gang violence that threatened their families’ lives. Most Mexican immigrants cross the border to find a living wage in this country to provide for their families back home. Even though I came from a poor white family, I have never faced the dangers these immigrants faced. That makes my perspectives different from theirs.

Another area of differences relates to individual personality and temperament development. I learned in a course on the Enneagram at ACU’s Summit last year that most people have a major type (1-9) with numerous influencing traits. (If that confuses you, you understood it perfectly.) I came away with the thought, “So, if several of the types influence my personality, I cannot have a singular label.” I concluded, “Correct—simple labels insufficiently describe complex people.”

At this point, I come back to my original premise of moral disgust.  I find others’ views on important matters that differ from mine morally disgusting at times. For example, we live in the midst of a cultural revolution in America. Unfortunately, COVID-19 responses have varied so greatly that many people began seeing opposing reactions as political oppression. If that did not threaten peace enough, rising deaths of unarmed Black men by police officers provoked protest riots across the country. We find ourselves fighting battles to which those of us with similar perspectives see relatively clear solutions.

What’s the problem? Well, my clear solutions, formed by all the complex factors that comprise me directly oppose others’ clear-cut solutions formed by all the complex factors that form them. Here we face an impasse. How do we reconcile our differences? I wish I knew the answer and could legislate the solution. Unfortunately, I cannot, and neither can anyone else. Living together in peace, civility, and dignity requires an open-mindedness, sense of compassion, tendency toward mercy, and painful selflessness, sorely lacking in our current environment. Remember the bracelets we wore—WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)? Maybe the solution lies in the answer to that question.

 Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing

One comment

  • Very good article Nancy! I had never thought of it in the way that you described it. After all we grew up in the same era experiencing the same things. Keep up the writing! I love your articles!


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