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The World’s Compass: Who Really Has Moral Responsibility?

by Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Human relationships can be a complicated thing, and on a deeper level so can reconciling who you are as a person and knowing where your own morals should or do lie. We deal with moral dilemmas on a daily basis and it can sometimes be difficult to know when we’re truly doing the right thing or taking a proper stance on an issue. Do you know which way your moral compass is pointing? If the answer is no, you probably aren’t a minority. Today we’re going to discuss the issue of moral responsibility on not only a personal level, but also how to reconcile your values in the larger scope of the world around you.

Overview
  • What are Values?
  • The Application of Morals
  • Knowing the Difference Between Right and Wrong
  • Discovering You Unique Compass
  • Conclusion

Values can be a complicated thing to discuss but they are in fact the foundation of our morals. It might surprise you, but they aren’t synonymous terms. The best way to understand morals and values is to think about a garden. While morals are the plants in the garden,values are more like the fertilizer that grows them. Values are the things we pick up as we develop over time and they aren’t completely static. While many of us pick up the majority of our values before adulthood, our values can morph throughout adulthood and never truly stop building. Values come from a multitude of sources. Our early values often come from more personalized sources like family,religion and even formal education. We learn our deepest rooted values from personal experiences and these earlier values often have a much stickier quality then the ones we pick up as adults.

The values we pick up as adults are often more accidental,anecdotal or formed from trial and error. Values we pick up as adults come from peers and hands-on life experience. In comparison to our stickier values from youth, these values tend to shape around  or blend into those foundation values as opposed to replacing them. Much of this can be attributed to not only the sources and circumstances we form adult values through, but to the differences in how adults think and process in comparison to a child. To make it simpler, think about a jello mold. Jello sets in stages so while freshly mixed jello may be able to absorb and incorporate elements like fruit into it and become something new, set jello cannot. The fruit would just sit on top and couldn’t incorporate to the same degree.

This is very much like the drastic difference between a youthful and adult mind. By the time we become adults, our mind is a far cry from the one we had as a youth when we developed our core values. Trying to introduce new values or improve established ones with an adult is a much more difficult task with much less chance of retention. In other words, adult minds are more closed off and rigid. As a staple, most adults are probably the person they will be for the rest of their life by their twenties and are very unlikely to make drastic changes  after that point. It doesn’t mean people can’t change but it does mean that the older we get, the less likely we are to change something we’ve been doing.

I understand resistance to change on a very heightened level as a person on the autism spectrum, but to a degree most adults will possess some degree of rigidity naturally, with or without an extenuating circumstance. Once you understand what values truly are, it becomes much easier to grasp what a moral is. Morals are the actual things we build from our values and live by. But morals, like values, are not a one-dimensional concept. Think of morals like you would a jigsaw puzzle but each piece of the puzzle is made up of our different values and beliefs acquired in life. Morals aren’t straightforward things. They’re a mixture of things that get rolled into a more condensed concept. If you ever find yourself questioning your sense of morality, don’t make the mistake of confusing morals and values. Shifting your moral compass can be as easy as breaking down the values that lead to whatever moral you’re at odds with. Remember that change has no time limit and you are allowed to change even your longest standing values if you really desire to do so.

Understanding morals better is unfortunately only part of what makes life confusing. Once you comprehend a subject, you need to also know what to do with that knowledge. What exactly is the purpose and application of a moral? On the surface, morals may appear to be primarily for personal application. They help use make decisions, form opinions and navigate social situations. But like many things in life, our morals aren’t just for us. They can also affect others. Some prime examples are if you’re a parent or public figure. Your morals are being displayed to another party in a sense that they can be emulated in some cases. That means that a moral failing doesn’t just affect you but also anyone who might use it as an example to follow. But for all of us, there are eyes on us at any given time and ears listening in. We’re all capable of creating a trend with each decision,word and action we execute in our daily lives.

Does that mean you have a responsibility to be a good moral compass? The answer on a basic level is no. No person has a required responsibility to take the butterfly effect into consideration when they’re just trying to live their lives.  But justice is never something you have to work toward. Justice,equality and well-being are things we need to want for ourselves primarily, but also for the world around us. Moral responsibility isn’t something we all have to own up to, but rather a higher appreciation of what it means to be part of the human race and not just a singular human being. Moral responsibility is something we choose to have because we realize that actions,words and opinions can be viral and have more of a spread then we can reasonably measure. When we choose to do what is right over what is easy or choose to stand for what’s fair over what’s popular, we are accepting the mantle of moral responsibility.

Practicing and applying good morals is a choice. Despite values sometimes forming by chance or relevance, morals are the guidelines we consciously set for ourselves. Any encounter where we need to make a stand,form an opinion or react to a social dilemma we turn to our morals for guidance. It’s up to us as people to make an effort to fill that internal rule book well. Don’t just blindly establish your morals in life. It may seem like a petty matter, but it’s far from it. Never be afraid to revisit, question or revise your morals. Be open to learning new viewpoints and cull values that are questionable or no longer applicable to the person you want to be in life or the world you want to be a part of. Realizing that our moral compass is one of many pointing toward the future of human society can be overwhelming and even scary, but being part of a better world can make that struggle well worth it.

Morals as a basic concept are neither right or wrong, despite them often being classified as being good or bad. Some time ago I did a reflection on whether a right or wrong really existed and came to the conclusion the reality is we’re reasonably a bit of both in any given situation. In a sense, something being right or wrong can  be seen as a subjective  and heavily circumstantial issue. If we go by the idea that no emotion is right or wrong at it’s core, the issue of morality can be just as nebulous when scrutinized. So how then do we tell if our morals are good or bad? How do we know if we need to rethink our internal rules?

The answer is more than likely that there’s no concrete way to do that. The better approach is to not necessarily judge your moral compass as much as the circumstances. Judgement and decision-making pulls from many places besides our morals. It also pulls from biases,immediate circumstances and even peer-pressures. To better understand the root of your morals, you almost have to cleanse your palette first by eliminating the social fluff.

The first step is to force yourself to think objectively. Take a step back from the situation and organize what you have in front of you. When we think objectively we put ourselves in a  better place to be rational and clearly focus on our own core values and beliefs without distraction.

The next step is to trim all the fluff. Are you applying any labels or biases based on the situation? If you notice a label infested analysis, take the time to scratch every label and shed any biases that might come from those. Take some time to observe your immediate circumstances. Is anything contributing negatively to your thought process like anxiety, pressures from outsiders or propaganda placed in the environment? If you notice anything like that, block it out. Blur any visual propaganda and put any peer-pressure statements on mute. Filter out the distractions and elements in the present environment that are impeding you thinking clearly.

Once you’ve done all those things, reflect on the situation with what’s left. That’s your purest standpoint and the best representation of your moral compass. The odds are that even at that point your moral ground will not be 100% right or wrong. The important thing is being able to clearly see and understand your true viewpoint. At that point, you can not only get a better understanding of yourself but also a good look at whether your moral compass needs re-calibrated or not. There’s no shame in having to revise your stand on things every once in a while. Being a little wrong sometimes or not having all the answers is also known as being human, but being mature enough to admit you can still learn and grow as an adult is strength.

With the numerous sources that help us create values, it can be a tough task to really figure out where we stand or what we need to rethink in life. It’s important to know as much as you can about what makes up your personal moral compass. Why is it important?  Our morals aren’t just tools for forming opinions and making decisions. They are also one of the biggest things we impart to others. They help others form opinions about who we are and represent our voice and perspective in the world. They influence others we encounter and sometimes indirectly the people we may never meet. What we see as a passing commentary or act has the capability to create a wave in the right environment.

I personally came from a  generation that was taught the value of thinking objectively and creatively about the world. We were raised to not just be spectators or watch the world go by, and that’s stuck with me into adulthood. Understanding the person you are means knowing what makes you tick. Thinking before you speak can be the difference between arguing and debating. Never take for granted that your moral compass is as vital as the beating of a heart. Knowing and appreciating what makes you the person you are is very much the equivalent to taking the wheel instead of putting on cruise control.

We live in a society where social justice is an ever-growing issue on all sides. Knowing where you really stand as a person is more important now than it ever has been. Don’t make the mistake of putting less weight on where your moral compass is pointing. Know your values, trust your own mind and don’t be afraid to adjust the volume on your inner voice.

Morality can be a confusing issue to tackle sometimes, but understanding the freedom we have to reshape our values can be a huge step toward a well-balanced moral compass. If you feel like your moral compass is off or you’re starting to doubt the soundness of your choices in life, don’t be afraid to take a long and honest look at your values. Making a choice to change can not only benefit you, but also the world around you.

Thanks for reading this issue of Thoughts of an Aspie!

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