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We Need to Build a More Moral Society

In our fast-paced world, it seems as though many people are becoming less moral and caring. People treat others in a way that creates divides instead of creating harmony. We need to remember that, as a society, we do still need other people even as our technology advances. We are an interdependent society, and we depend on each other for survival.

We depend on farmers for our food. But it doesn't just stop there. There is the trucking industry that delivers our food to stores, and store employees who have to stock the shelves and run the cash register. And that is just for us to be able to eat, our most basic of needs.

When you look at the rest of how society runs, you realize that there are a huge number of people in the supply chain for everything that fuels our lives. This can include education, banking, sanitation, infrastructure, and even the people at Amazon who deliver anything and everything to your door. People need each other.

With it being the case that we are so interconnected for basic needs of survival, you would think that we would treat other people better. But we have increasingly grown more individualistic in the last 200 years, and it shows in our attitudes towards others. People have left basic moral decency behind in so many cases.

This shows up in parenting, with such issues as child abuse being on the rise, and in all our levels of government with corrupt officials being elected who abuse their power. Narcissism is on the rise, and empathy is on the decline. We need to return to basic moral decency, so that our society doesn't crumble into chaos.

How Morality Develops

Since morality has to do with our social functioning, it isn't a skill that we are born with. Although children do exhibit empathy and kindness, they can also be prone to violent outbursts as well. We need to do the best we can to nurture the goodness in our children, so that it will shine through over baser instincts.

Within psychology, there are several different theories of moral development. According to Very Well Mind,

  • Freud’s morality and the superego: Sigmund Freud suggested moral development occurred as a person’s ability to set aside their selfish needs were replaced by the values of important socializing agents (such as a person’s parents).

  • Piaget’s theory of moral development: Jean Piaget focused on the social-cognitive and social-emotional perspective of development. Piaget theorized that moral development unfolds over time, in certain stages as children learn to adopt certain moral behaviors for their own sake—rather than just abide by moral codes because they don’t want to get into trouble.

  • B.F. Skinner’s behavioral theory: B.F. Skinner focused on the power of external forces that shaped an individual’s development. For example, a child who receives praise for being kind may treat someone with kindness again out of a desire to receive more positive attention in the future.

  • Kohlberg’s moral reasoning: Lawrence Kohlberg proposed six stages of moral development that went beyond Piaget’s theory. Through a series of questions, Kohlberg proposed that an adult’s stage of reasoning could be identified.

Even if we just look at the development of morality as operant conditioning, it is clear that it is the parent's role from a very young age to shape the way think about their actions, and relate to others. We can teach the value of empathy and kindness, and model this in our own behaviors as well.

As we begin to raise more kind and empathetic children, by emphasizing taking the perspectives of others and understanding their feelings in a given situation, we can help to build a more caring and moral society. We can teach the value of connection, and showing gratitude to others for the things they do for us.

The Importance of Morality

Morality teaches us the difference between right and wrong, and how we should treat others in society. Every society, going back to the Babylonians, had a legal code and a standard of morality. Typically, morality is taught to children from a young age by parents, schools, the church, and other family members. As children grow, we teach them right from wrong, and how to behave towards others.

As our society has become increasingly more individualistic and secularized, the ideas of the communal good have begun to fall towards the wayside. We are teaching children less and less at home about how to behave, removing them from the hierarchies of the church, and relying predominately on schools for moral education. The problem is, schools take on additional responsibilities, but there isn't enough time in the school day to teach it all.

With children not receiving much of a moral education because parents think of it as 'someone else's job' our society is losing its moral compass. You can see many examples of this throughout society when it comes to the way we treat others on a daily basis.

According to National News, in the United Arab Emirates:

Schools will start including moral education as a subject in their curriculums from the beginning of the next academic year. The lessons will focus on the promotion of ethics, personal and community growth, culture and heritage, civic education, and rights and responsibilities. As we have argued before, such a course – if implemented well – will shape our future leaders and raise moral standards across society.

By teaching ethics in a uniform way in schools, it will instill moral values of what considers right and wrong in children from a young age. Doing this will help to create a generation of children that grow up with more standard moral values, who are able to come together to solve difficult issues.

Issues of Morality

If you look at a swath of social issues that is threatening our society today, it is obvious that something needs to be done to make people take notice of the plight of others. According to Human Rights Careers, some of the most pressing social issues in American society are:

  1. Student debt

  2. Wage inequality

  3. Healthcare

  4. Housing

  5. Voting rights

  6. Reproductive rights

  7. Book banning in schools

  8. LGBTQ+ rights

  9. Climate justice

  10. Racism

While I would personally argue that racism and climate change should top this list, this gives you an idea of all the things that are going wrong in America today due to our skewed sense of morality, and lack of concern for our fellow citizens. We need to have a higher level of civic engagement in order to be able to bounce back from these issues and create a better society.

Creating a Moral Society

In order to create a more moral society, we first need to become more moral ourselves. We need to learn to empathize with others, and to show genuine concern and compassion for their needs. This also means we need to have some basic level of awareness of all the problems that people struggle with in our society. We need to watch the news, and engage civically.

In the Good Society, sociologist Robert Bellah and his coauthors challenge Americans to take a good look at themselves. Faced with growing homelessness, rising unemployment, crumbling highways, and impending ecological disaster, our response is one of apathy, frustration, cynicism, and retreat into our private worlds. The social problems confronting us today, the authors argue, are largely the result of failures of our institutions, and our response, largely the result of our failure to realize the degree to which our lives are shaped by institutional forces and the degree to which we, as a democratic society, can shape these forces for the better.

While our society is crumbling around our ears, we are busy staring into our phones and trying to get 'likes.' We are sacrificing connection for engagement. We think that because we are on social media we are being social, the problem is, so much of our engagement on social media is performative instead of genuine.

Additionally, we are neglecting our civic responsibilities when it comes to making sure our elected officials are doing a good job. There is a huge, disenfranchised block of people who don't vote. And those that do aren't typically doing so in a well-informed manner.

According to The Washington Post,

Abelson and his colleagues found that in those two elections, voters made the choice for president based more on feelings for the candidates than on anything else. Feelings were more important even than party identification and the general issues in predicting how a voter would vote, he says, and even ranked above whether voters considered themselves liberals or conservatives.

Some people who are highly engaged in politics will research all of the candidates carefully. Others will vote based on the party affiliation, and those who are the most disengaged may vote based on simply seeing a commercial about a candidate.

According to Pew Research:

Many Americans participate in politics, either by volunteering for or donating to campaigns, attending protests or meetings, contacting officials or expressing their views on social media. Overall, a large majority (67%) reports having engaged in at least one of these activities in the past five years; nearly half (46%) say they have done so in the past year alone.

Although this shows civic engagement in elections being 'high' it is still troubling because these statistics show us that about 1/3 of the American population isn't participating in the political system. These are people who aren't making their voices heard, and are therefore negatively contributing to the political system.

Some of the information that determines how people vote, according to the University of Michigan, are:

Among attitudinal factors, assessments of the personal characteristics of the candidates, evaluations of government performance, orientations on specific policy issues, party identification, and ideology are the primary determinants of candidate choice. For social factors, race, religion, region, and social class appear to be the characteristics that have most closely related to voting over the past several decades.

Since people vote according to their race, religion and social class, this means that there is a lack of cohesion between these social groups in society. We are becoming fractured. It is like the cliques in high school, except now we are letting the 'popular' kids run the government instead of just the schoolyard.

In order to create a more just and moral society, we need to come together and reduce the stratification that is creating these fractures within society. We need to pay attention to the issues that are important to other groups, and not just our own. We need to listen to a diverse set of voices to stay informed.

We need to recognize that everyone in our society shares a common good, and that by improving the situation of one group of people, we are improving the quality of life of our society as a whole. We need to reduce the gap between the 'have's' and the 'have not's' so that we can rebuild the middle class and have a society where people strive instead of struggling to get by.

According to The Lancet,

Economists have successfully sold the myth that politicians and policy makers should ignore virtue and values. By doing so, our societies have compromised the very virtues and values that would otherwise encourage people to act in socially beneficial ways towards one another—including their commitment to creating a benevolent, inclusive, and kind health system that respects every person as an equal member of society. Intensive and competitive market-based societies have generated enormous wealth for a few, with increasing precarity for many. Our societies have become more divided, more angry, more partisan. Trust, reciprocity, and fair-mindedness are receding. Society rewards self-interest. If the morality of society begins with the question “What's in it for me?”, it is not surprising that the solidarity one needs to build a high-quality health system will be in short supply. Bowles writes that “moral sentiments are an essential foundation of good government”. “There is no ethnographic or historical record”, he continues, “of a successful society indifferent to virtue”.

In other words, capitalism has corroded our values and made us more selfish. People today have been increasingly indifferent to the plights of others, sometimes even going so far as to blame the victims for their struggles, as you often see with rape victims. When you blame someone for their problems, you absolve yourself of feeling like you should help them.

Not only are we indifferent, we are also increasingly unaware of the plight of others. With a large swath of people indifferent to politics (which largely decides our social policy), and even more getting incorrect or misleading information from social media, you may not even realize that, for example, homelessness is a problem.

Paying attention to the world around us, to the plights of others, and showing empathy and kindness towards them is key to reinventing a more moral society. Caring about others is key to humanity's continued survival. As more and more people are doomed to lives of substandard treatment through poverty and its effects, our society is beginning to fail.

In order to lift ourselves back up to a better standard of living like what we enjoyed even 20 years ago, we need to lift up those that have fallen the furthest. We need a safety net for people who are suffering from poverty, homelessness, starvation and lack of healthcare.

We need to build a society where we care about those things, so that we are motivated to solve these pressing social issues. Once we can come together as a shared humanity, then we need to urgently address world issues like pollution and climate change.

Humans need each other to survive. We need our world to survive.

These basic truths need to be in the forefront of our minds, and at the core of our decision making. Finding a moral compass and a moral center within ourselves means rediscovering that our own highest good is in alignment with the highest good of everyone. We all rise when we rise together.

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