I am not a moralist. I do not stand on my soapbox and scream and yell at folk or judge those that do not reflect my standards of morality. I do, however, have a sound moral code and do hold to this code staunchly. To this point in life I have assumed that most people have a moral compass that they use to guide them through life and that they stick to their code regardless of the circumstances; this is having character.
To begin our talk on character we must first discuss morality and the incredibly complex philosophical problems trying to define morality presents.
Morality is easy to discuss when dealing with the “big” issues that most agree are wrong: murder, stealing, rape, arson, kidnapping, etc. But as we move away from the core beliefs of right and wrong, the perimeter becomes hazy, more grey than black and white. And it is in this area that comes much confusion and division.
To some any violation of ethics is unacceptable, while others view life as a series of moments that require new judgment and discrimination; that each individual situation must be handled on its own merit. Ultimately, each individual is left to his/her own to make decisions for themselves as to what they deem to be immoral. I am referring to the morals judgments that fall into the grey area.
Take adultery as an example. There are those that view adultery as completely immoral and would never consider having an affair. On the other hand, I have taken part in discussions in the past with people that do not view adultery as harshly as I and do not view those that commit adultery as having done anything too terribly awful.
The research I conducted on adultery shows that 57% of men and 54% of women polled admitted to having had an affair (StatisticBrain.com). I thought these numbers were inflated, but 4 other sites I researched reflected the exact same numbers from a pool of thousands and thousands of people. So even if the people committing adultery view adultery as immoral, they do not see it as bad enough to keep them from having an affair.
I am not sure if society will ever be able to come to a consensus on what is right and what is wrong as it relates to this grey area. Some view certain things as terribly immoral acts while others do not. So where does that leave us?
After all, it ultimately is left up to the individual. Adultery is not an offense that will land one in jail, but that does not mean it is justifiable.
Some people do not view lying as immoral. This is probably based on societies acceptance and use of “white lies” which we have discussed in the past. In my life I try to speak the truth, even if the truth is difficult for the person to hear. I will take a few moments and find a way to speak the truth without coming across in a hurtful manner; often times posing the truth in the form of a question. But I try to speak the truth nonetheless. So I view lying in most forms as a problem. In my opinion, telling white lies as a habit can lead one to accept that certain lies are okay, whereas, we should practice speaking the truth, in my opinion.
So as individuals and as a society we are constantly judging immoral actions based on the severity of the infraction. Even the Bible, Koran and other ancient religious texts have statements of morality that we have judged to be outdated or too stringent for practical every day living.
For instance, Jesus states in the Bible that if a man looks at a woman lustfully that he has committed adultery. The statement is black and white, cut and dry, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that most Christians in my life smooth the edges of this teaching considerably as it seems too harsh and restrictive. To make it make sense most will move to site the intent behind the message and deemphasize the literal statement.
So how are we to come to any resolution on what is moral and immoral? Plato discusses morality at length as have most philosophers and religions throughout history, but no one has developed a clear cut definition of what is moral and what is immoral. Like I said earlier, it comes down to the individual following what that person knows to be right and wrong regardless of the circumstances.
Which brings into the discussion an entirely new issue: what if the individual was not raised in an environment that provided a consistent code of morality?
Hopefully you can see how complex the concept of morality can become!
I started writing this post as a lead in to having character, but it with off the rails a bit because I cannot justify inside my mind leaving morality up to each individual while at the same time not being able to find any definite moral example to follow in all instances; this example simply does not exist.
So the only conclusion that I am left with is each individual must make the best decisions that he/she is capable of making based on the understanding that person has of morality. Once again I am referring to the grey areas not the absolutes of murder, rape, kidnapping, theft, etc.
I am unable to tie a bow on this post, tidy it up and present it to you with a conclusion. I will have to spend more time reading and in contemplation.