As scientists, we psychologists know very little about changing our values and little about how people become compassionate, generous, trustworthy, forgiving, and altruistic. See an excellent review of what we do know in Mussen and Eisenberg-Berg (1977). Everyone recognizes, of course, that certain individuals and groups, e.g. the Hopi Indians in Arizona, do develop these kind, socially responsible, considerate traits. But how? We aren't sure, but it certainly isn't easy to become an unselfish person. The Hopi family and community, for instance, teach and model a concern for others, cooperation, and having a "Hopi good heart" from early childhood. Likewise, the Israeli kibbutz (Shapira & Madsen, 1969) and the schools in Russia (Bronfenbrenner, 1975) try to teach non-competitive cooperation and communal responsibilities for others, while we in the United States praise individual freedom and achievement, and encourage win-lose competition. By the way, what has happened to the values of caring for others since the collapse of the Soviet Union?
The "cold war" was believed by some to be a great economic experiment between communism and free enterprise. With the 1990 failure of the communist economy, some American's declared total victory for our side (even though we were having serious economic problems too). I fear what other conclusions are being drawn as well, not by logic but by emotional needs. For instance, let's not conclude that American values were and are superior to Soviet values. I still value their proclaimed cooperative group-orientation, rather then our competitive consider-only-yourself orientation. Thinking people can hardly interpret the "the Cold War" as a great moral victory. That 45-year "war" involved two self-centered military giants who for 45 years wasted trillions on weapons and hundreds of thousands of lives in small wars and rebellions around the world, while a billion people remained hungry, sick, and uneducated. Furthermore, if the United States or any other country now jumps to the conclusion that military might (instead of world-wide democracy) is the best way to peace and justice, the country's leaders need more training as thinkers and as moralists.
Humans, acting alone, are certainly capable of selfish, inconsiderate, hostile acts--witness our overflowing prisons. Many people would cheat others and corporations if they had a chance. A few would torture and kill others, even wipe out an entire country or race or ethnic group (witness Germany, Ireland, Israel, and Bosnia). Many children primarily think of themselves. Colin Turnbull (1972) has described a tribe in Uganda, called the Ik, who are extremely self-centered and downright cruel. Ik parents abandon their children at an early age to fend for themselves or die. Thus, it isn't surprising that all Ik steal whatever they can, even from close relatives, in an effort to survive in a harsh environment. In our culture, we believe in giving our children love, warmth, affection, and meeting their every need; however, as we saw in the introduction, this protected childhood does not guarantee that each child will not steal and cheat, and be kind, just, and generous. We are experimenting, but we haven't discovered yet how to produce good people.
We know there are many good people, like the Hopi Indians. Consider too: Mother Teresa helping the poor in Calcutta or the spouse devoted to a brain-damaged partner or a parent caring for a seriously handicapped child or a passerby who pulls a stranger out of a burning car or a soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his buddies or a donor who gives an organ to prolong life. The list goes on and on, perhaps almost every family has someone who can be turned to in times of trouble. So far as we know, every one of us could become the family helper or, in the right circumstances, become a hero saving lives, helping the poor, insisting that all children be fed, treated, and educated. However, there is no scientific prescription for goodness yet; you have to find your own way. It is vitally important. The world needs more good people. Maybe the suggestions in this chapter will help you find a way that appeals to you.
As humans, we seem to have no basic overriding genetic nature; we seem capable of being good or evil; our unique life experiences seem to draw us in one direction or another. Our moral "decisions" are not a single, simple choice made once and forever, but rather a life-long, continuing, complex, poorly understood by others, and an almost unconscious process. There are so many ways of being good and going astray, so many reasons for behaving each possible way, and so many excuses, denials, or rationalizations that confuse the issues. All these factors make the future for each of us uncertain; we all face the temptations of being bad as well as good.
Cultures, families, and friends seem to influence our morals significantly, but these factors change from time to time. For instance, it has become popular in some sub-cultures to think that you are foolish or naive if you don't lie and cheat, when you can probably get away with it. In college today, in contrast to 50 years ago or in a Honor System, relatively few students would turn in a fellow student for cheating. The student culture, in this sense, has become tolerant of cheating. Yet, lots of people still believe differently. We have the Moral Right and other religious groups who call for the old morals. Robert Frank (1988) says that following the morals of great philosophers and religions--honesty, devotion, commitment, self-sacrifice, empathy, and love--(and not the modern notion that humans are always self-serving) will lead to a better world and to greater personal gain as a trusted, respected, sought-after person. In short, he says it pays for each individual to be moral.
The world seemed to be conducting a moral experiment for a while, i.e. competition between two political-moral views: capitalism, a competition, self-oriented, materialistic, live-and-let-live set of values vs. communism, a cooperative, others-oriented, moralistic, care-for-others philosophy. Unfortunately, there were too many uncontrolled variables, so no conclusions could be drawn (although we certainly tried to persuade ourselves that "we won"). Too bad we scientists and our governments aren't doing a better job of honestly assessing the benefits and liabilities of different moral-political-economic approaches. Again, you'll have to do the "research" yourself. Maybe the advocates on both sides don't want to know the facts but just want to put out their propaganda. Certainly, the overall advantage of one view over the other is not obvious: giving and caring for others are commendable acts but competition, independence, and greed are powerful motivations which could benefit us all. You see, the world doesn't even know, yet, which values and motives would benefit the people the most.
Hogan (1973) believes that moral behavior is determined by five factors: (1) Socialization: becoming aware as a child of society's and parents' rules of conduct for being good. (2) Moral judgment: learning to think reasonably about our own ethics and deliberately deciding on our own moral standards. (3) Moral feelings: the internalization of our moral beliefs to the degree that we feel shame and guilt when we fail to do what we "should." (4) Empathy: the awareness of other people's situation, feelings, and needs so that one is compelled to help those in need. (5) Confidence and knowledge: knowing the steps involved in helping others and believing that one is responsible for and capable of helping.
There is not much you can do now about Hogan's first factor--your own upbringing. Even though poor parenting is clearly associated with poor work habits, drug use, gangs, and irresponsibility, you have to accept whatever childhood you had. According to Mussen and Eisenberg-Berg (1977), helpful children usually have nurturent parents who frequently act on their giving, caring nature within the family and with outsiders. These parents set high demands on the child, frequently asking him or her to help or to "take care of" another person, but they do not use "power" in the form of physical force or threats to control their child. Instead, the reasons and ethics for the desired behavior or recommended morals are carefully explained. They point out the "rights" and "wrongs" of the child's daily actions, while living up to their own standards of honesty, concern for others, and fairness. If you were raised in this way, thank your parents. If you weren't, understand your parents, and set about providing yourself with the learning experiences (you can talk to yourself like a parent) you may need to become a helping person.
There are many factors that influence your daily morality, which you can control. Let's now explore Hogan's second factor--the moral judgments needed to develop a good value system of your own. The best way for you to do this is by starting to draft your own set of beliefs and values as you consider the following sections. At the end of the chapter, you will have an outline for a useful value system.
Writing Your Own Philosophy of Life
According to Jewish custom, a person should write two wills: one to give away property and another to pass on his or her values. What values do you want to live by and have your children adopt? I suggest you give this important matter a great deal of thought and then outline a philosophy to guide your own and your children's lives (if they should choose to listen).
First, some definitions of common terms. Beliefs are our own expectancies (realistic or not) and understandings (accurate or not) about how things are, such as believing in certain benefits and limitations of education, medicine, science, or religions. Values are our ideas about how things should be, i.e. the ideals we hope to strive for. Values can be divided into desirable life goals (e.g. happiness or success, see Table 3.2) and guiding principles (e.g. hard working or honesty, see Table 3.3). Values could also be ranked in importance from morally crucial, like honesty and freedom and justice, to slight non-moral preferences, like a kind of music or style of dress we prefer.
For the rest of the chapter, I suggest you concentrate on deciding the few crucial goals and most important guiding moral principles for your life. Leave aside--for now--the great philosophical questions about how the universe was created, whether or not there is a God or life after death, whether you should seek the truth from authorities, personal experience, or through experimentation, and so on. These beliefs are much too complicated to be dealt with in an hour or so (if ever).
You can, however, decide on the basic goals and ethical principles that will direct your life day by day, moment by moment. You can do this within a few hours. It could be a very important achievement. The next section of this chapter will help you write your philosophy of life and learn how to live by that philosophy. Here is an overview of what we will be covering:
- Become aware of Kohlberg and others' stages of normal moral development. In what stages are you right now? Make notes.
- Consider Morris's 13 ways of living. Which ways appeal to you the most?
- Rank Rokeach's values (Table 3.2, the end goals, and Table 3.3, the ways of getting there). What principles should guide your life? Think about who has lived life closest to your ideals. Buddha? Jesus? Albert Schweitzer? Lincoln? Martin Luther King? A great scientist? A good leader? A caring, helpful person in your community? One of your parents? Why did you make that choice? What are the implications for your philosophy?
- Resolve the conflicts among your basic values, such as between seeking personal happiness vs. doing good for others. Does this establish your top priority?
- Write your own philosophy of life--a clear explicit statement of important guiding principles. Not just something that sounds lofty, but realistic, honest guidelines you will try to live by every hour of every day.
- Learn to live according to your highest chosen values, which will test your "will" and require many of the skills described throughout this book.