Morality

What are morals?

A good life requires good morals. The challenge is to differentiate morals that are good from those that are bad. Why have people become less concerned with morality and even to the point of being unwilling even to discuss morality?

Morals are rules of conduct – personal and public. Acting morally means doing some things and abstaining from others. Without principles, our actions become chaotic and unstable.

Practically all major religions and faiths enjoin and prohibit the same actions. Common sense also indicates rules of conduct. There are many rules indicated by common sense.

One example is to treat others the way you would like to be treated by them. If everyone were to treat other people as he would like to be treated by them, everyone would be treated well.

One other example of a rule is the relationship between ends and means. Some people think that the ends can justify the means. It is all right to take any action, so long as the outcome is the desired one. On a political level, this is reflected in the view that it is all right to have revolutions, as long as the perfect society emerges at the end of the process. Apart from the fact that no perfect society has yet emerged, this view is false for other reasons as well.

If the end were to justify the means, anyone could do anything and say that he or she was doing it with some good intention in mind, such as the benefit of humanity. Accordingly, no one should interfere, criticize, or hold the person responsible for those actions. While intentions are not irrelevant, they cannot possibly provide justification for crimes.

Good habits are those that contribute to the preservation, dignity, and well being of persons. Bad habits are those that have the reverse effects.

Aversion to Morality

Is it because they feel that, if they were judged, they would not measure up very well? In order to escape, such people dismiss all moral standards as merely “subjective.”

Any kind of moral judgment in their view thus becomes merely one or another person’s ‘subjective’ opinion. The entire course of history seems to consist of an attempt to escape from judgment.

Morals require the regulation of behavior. A few people want to do as they please, in the mistaken belief that this is the best way to live.

Moral Relativism

We have become less concerned with morality because we have come to believe that it is not possible to tell the difference between right and wrong. Confronted with what appears to be a multiplicity of moral standards, instead of making an effort to examine those standards, we have taken the easy way out. Instead of examining those standards and analyzing them, we have simply declared that all moral principles are relative. This saves us the trouble to think about standards and has the added ‘advantage’ that we can set our own standards according to our tastes and preferences, or perhaps even according to our whims.

Yet this view is not right. For example, if someone falsely testifies against another person, the false witness has crossed the line between right and wrong, he or she committed an injustice, and there is nothing subjective about that.

As a consequence of moral relativism, we distinguish what we think of as statements of fact from what we think of as value judgements. Facts are objective, so the argument goes, and values are not. Thus we are commonly exhorted to ‘stick to the facts, as this will protect us from making arbitrary judgements.

The difference between facts and values, however, is arbitrary. Not all statements of facts are objective, while not all statements of moral principles are subjective.

Since we think of all values as relative, we expect everyone to make up his or her mind as to the difference between right and wrong. We have come to think of morality as something private.

The fact that we have conflict of interest guidelines for public officials and professionals shows that we have not given up on the idea that it is possible to differentiate right conduct from wrong. Morals or ethics are important in a person’s public or professional life.

Morality and Brainwashing

Another reason why people are not willing to discuss morality is the feeling that by consenting to talk about it, they leave themselves open to being brainwashed or influenced by others using words in a manipulative way.

We have come to think of morality as a rigid set of rules designed mainly to restrict freedom rather than to live a better, fuller life. And since people tend to think of freedom as the highest good, they tend to dismiss talk about morality as merely an attempt by one party to impose its views on an another.

Being Judgmental

People find it difficult to talk about morals without feeling that someone is trying to pass judgment on them. It may be that once some standard of conduct is articulated, people will naturally ask themselves how well they measure up to those standards. Some people feel so much unease about this topic that the very mention of it already wounds them.

There is a difference between articulating standards of conduct and measuring how well people meet those standards. In order to avoid passing judgment on others, let us agree that each mature person should do his or her own measuring. This does not mean, however, that we should give up on attempting to articulate standards of conduct. Various political and personal scandals constitute sufficient evidence that we need to reacquaint ourselves with the meaning and significance of standards and morality.

A person who participates in such a discussion is free to challenge, reject, accept, or modify any view raised in the course of the discussion.

The requirement to remain non-judgmental in the sense of abstaining even from attempting to articulate standards of conduct means that we cannot express any kind of disapproval, about any actions, on the grounds that to do so would be ‘judgmental.’

Are we prepared to say, then, that anything goes? The insistence on being non-judgmental in the sense of seeing all morals as subjective has the effect of denying people access to all standards in their conduct.

Are Principles Dangerous?

Strange as it may seem, there are persons who feel that people with principles constitute a threat, especially in democratic societies. The attachment to moral or religious principles, such persons feel, is a sure sign of an authoritarian or intolerant personality.

So they spend much time and effort in attempting to eradicate any remains of such principles in people who hold on to them. This is commonly done through the means of communication, mass media, scholarly publications, newspapers, schools and universities. The intent is to create a new type of person, the ultimate non-judgmental person.

Those who distrust persons with convictions overlook several facts. Having convictions does not make a person an authoritarian and intolerant person. Secondly, it is the people without convictions, without a sense of the difference between right and wrong that constitute the real threat to humanity. They are the conformists that will say they only followed orders.

Morals and Morale

There is a close relationship between morals and morale. Some of the feelings we experience are the direct result of specific actions we take and habits we have. If our morale is low, some of our actions or habits may be a factor.

It follows that a change of habits may result in a change of morale. The idea is to adopt and maintain habits which keep our morale high, and refrain from habits and actions which lower it.

Body and Soul

Some people no longer believe, if ever they did, that life is made up of more than matter. This is evident from the relative status accorded to the ministers of the body, the physicians on the one hand, and ministers of the soul on the other.

Despite much religious and spiritual revival that has been taking place in recent years, the awareness of our greatest possession, the soul, is still limited among a significant number of persons. This is unfortunate (especially for the people concerned) in that it leads them to neglect themselves, indeed, to neglect the most important part of their selves.

Generation and Regeneration

Generation is the growth and the blossoming of life. Since we are mortal, our bodies necessarily experience not only birth and growth but also decline and death. As we get older, we become progressively more feeble, weak, and sickly. The good news is that our souls need not experience this kind of decline. We can not only resist spiritual decline, we can grow our souls even after our bodies are already withering away.

In order to attain and retain high morale, we need to pursue activities that regenerate us. Conversely, we need to avoid like the plague all activities that have the opposite effect.

Action and Intention

Actions as well as intentions should be good. If we perform actions without intending to do good, we run the risk of losing sight of the good. On the other hand, if we merely intend to do good, without considering the actions, we run the risk of using the wrong means to accomplish what we think of as good.

Ritual

Teachers emphasise the need to put one’s heart into one’s actions. More than mere lip service is required. Other teachers have put emphasis on actions again. It is not enough to have good convictions if they are not acted upon.

Yet we may be in a better position to follow instructions wholeheartedly if we know some of the reasons for those instructions. Does this mean that full commitment to doing the right thing requires the understanding of right?

Clean and Unclean

We have a problem keeping the unclean separate from the clean. In the physical sense, this is exemplified by our inability to stop the contamination of rivers and seas by waste of all types, including toxic waste. Rivers become contaminated and we take our drinking water from them, for example.

It is not easy to get well from disease caused by bad drinking water. If it is important to keep our drinking water clean, is it not also important to keep our acts clean? It is necessary to remain on guard.

Pure and Impure

While we speak of, for example, pure air or pure orange juice, few persons ever talk about a pure person or an impure one. Is it because we have grown uncertain as to how to differentiate the two?

Wrongdoing and Judgment

Actions affect judgment. A wrong action impairs the judgment of the person. In this way, misdeeds can escalate. Accordingly, it is important to remain on guard against even what appear to be small wrongs.

Arrogance

Arrogance is thinking that one knows when in fact one does not know.

Ignorance and Sin

People who do wrong are not always aware of it. If they were, presumably they would not do it. A few of them realize at a later stage that they did wrong, and at this point they are likely to have regrets.

It is perhaps to this group of persons that the saying “there is no sin but ignorance” applies. But a few people persist in wrondoing knowingly. As far as the truly ignorant are concerned, preventing wrongdoing requires education.

Cheating and Reputation

People who cheat will get a bad reputation. Once they are caught cheating, bad reputation will stick to them like their own shadow. It will follow them no matter where they go.

Conflict of Interest

People in public positions are expected to represent the interest of the public. If such people undertake any actions that benefit them personally while acting in the position of public officials, they have allowed their personal interest to conflict with the public interest.

Such actions constitute a betrayal of public trust and should be treated accordingly. The higher is the position of an official guilty of a conflict of interest, the more damaging are his actions.

Peacekeeping

It is very important to keep peace; between nations, people, and within oneself. Every day many disturbances threaten the peace. There is a way to resolve conflicts.

Dignity

Dignity is a quiet resolve to remain true to one’s way of life. Yet there are many ways of life, and a quiet resolve to remain true to a life of crime cannot possibly be called dignified. Dignity requires a quiet resolve to a worthy way of life.

Cynicism

Cynicism manifests itself is in the indifference to the fate of people. A person may care little about people because he thinks that they do not care about him. The way to escape from cynicism is to start caring about others.

Discipline

Discipline is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for living well. A disciplined criminal cannot in any sense be living well.

Discipline is the habit of living and doing things according to a set of good rules. To acquire a high degree of discipline requires practice.

No accomplishment, great or small, whether it be in the field of science, sports, politics, religion, business, or raising a family, has ever been achieved without discipline.

Family and State

How far and on what grounds does the state have a right to interfere in people’s private affairs? In domestic violence, for example, the police as well as an array of social workers are called in to help settle the dispute.

Generalising

It is wrong to paint the people with the same brush. Just because some persons belonging to a particular group have done something disreputable, it does not mean that all persons in that group are the same.

Honesty

Honesty is telling the truth. Dishonesty damages the credibility of the person who is shown to have acted dishonestly.

Gambling

Gambling is taking an unncessary risk in the hope of making a quick gain. Gamblers think that success is possible without patience and perseverance. But there are no shortcuts to prosperity. Why do people gamble, and why do so many states tolerate and even participate in gambling?

When a person gambles, he risks the fruits of years of hard work and sacrifice on chance. The future and welfare of countless families and childrenhave been severely damaged by this abhorrent practice.

How many individuals and families have been destroyed by gambling?

People’s Inheritance

When people teach their children religion, diligence, self-control, honesty, compassion, and good habits in general, they have already bequeathed much to their children. For apart from accidental fortune or misfortune, success in life is in large measure the result of good habits.

Author: Abdul Karim Abdullah

Writer and editor

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