Do I dare to acknowledge the real influences on my morality?

How has my  morality been informed?

Initially, as a child, by the values & rules taught by parents, school and church (in my case Christian). Later, as an adult, by public leaders, politicians, and reading newspapers, all followed by my own analysis – but do I consider that I analysed with sufficient rigour?

Cartoon of girl with question marks above her headCartoon of churchDrawing of schoolDrawing of house

Also, if I’m totally honest, literature has played a significant part in my moral development, as both novels and plays have caused me to examine my ideas of right and wrong. I instinctively feel rather apologetic (bordering on slightly ashamed) about including fiction in my list of influences.

But should I be apologetic? After all, some of our classic novelists were great thinkers, and through their writings they can expose readers to views of the world we would not otherwise have the chance to experience.

Cartoon of woman thinking/ponderingTheatre staageCartoon of Hamlet holding skull saying "To be or not to be"Open book

And if I open up literature as a permitted influence on formation of moral values, why not the other arts too? That’s an interesting question, yet for me personally I’m sure that paintings have not had a role to play, but maybe that is not the case for other people. Similarly music, despite it being for me is the most important activity in my life (after family, friends and work) I consider to have no impact on my moral judgements.

Do I expect that my children’s generation – and that includes most of the other participants on this course/MOOC as my children are in their 20s! – will similarly be strongly influenced by novels and plays? Possibly, but I do think that more often films will be fulfilling that role.

Jackie talks about this in his post about Morality, in relation to film The Dark Knight.

What do other people think?

Has fiction influenced your ideas of morality?

Am I wrong to allow fiction to influence mine?

Moral beliefs and my behaviour.

It is my hope that my moral beliefs have a major impact on how I behave; however, I am aware that it can be easy to ignore one’s beliefs and follow the line of least resistance to go along with the majority.Tony talks about this in his post, and includes a link to a very thought-provoking paper about Moral Courage in Healthcare.

I have certainly been guilty of this on many occasions, but the older I become, the easier I find it to act in accordance with my own convictions even when this causes me to be out of step with those around me.

This is, to my mind, one of the great consolations of being old!

The shifting of my moral beliefs… as a direct result of this MOOC

Watching the Sam Harris TED talk video (in our course material) was very stimulating, and it made me realise that I have been taking the easy way out in thinking that religions/cultures should be allowed freedom to act in accordance with their traditions. It has challenged me to review my standpoint on this issue.

After considering the points which Sam Harris raises, I concur with his view that “We have convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere there is no such thing as moral expertise, or moral talent/genius. We say every opinion counts, including that of the Taliban…” This is indeed pretty much what I’ve been saying up until now.

And surely this cannot be right?

I realise that I have been guilty of lazy thinking and following the path of least resistance; it’s time I thought more deeply and applied more intellectual analysis to these matters.

Gosh, this on-line learning lark can certainly provoke powerful changes in beliefs…


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11 responses to “Do I dare to acknowledge the real influences on my morality?”

  1. jackiewong88 says :

    Hey Wendy, Excellent post! There is a lot I agree on but I will focus on answering the reference to Dark Knight. First off, just to clarify, I am a male named Jackie haha :), like Jackie Chan. It’s fine though!

    I believe that a fictional character like Batman can influence our morality in positive and negative ways. He can be a role model for good and bad depending on how it is interpreted by each person. For example, everything Batman does can inspire others to become a vigilante of justice and use desperate and unorthodox measures to bring balance and good to society. This follows the notion of “Sacrificing for the greater good.” However, if in reality there was a Batman and he was let go scot free then people may see it as an opportunity to do the same thing but for their own “defined” purposes. Either way, moral law and the justice system will change forever whether good or bad. And the sense moral stability will become inconsistent.

    We all know that if something like “law” which is set in stone is somehow deterred by loopholes or finding ways around it, then there is no longer balance and consistency. On that note, if there is never a “Batman” then a corrupted society will drown in its own selfishness?

    PS: I agree with you about us learning an enormous amount on this on-line course.


    • Wendy Walker says :

      Many apologies, Jackie, for not realising that you are a bloke! I have changed the pronoun in my post to save future confusion.
      Thank you for expanding your Dark Knight reference; it’s not the sort of film I normally watch, but having read your comments I think I’ll try and see it.

  2. Michael Rowe says :

    Thanks for a great post, Wendy. I love your suggestion that our moral points of view are influenced by so many things we come into contact with, including different forms of literature and media. I agree with all of it, although I’d say that music most definitely has had an influence on my ideas of right and wrong. I’d say that contemporary cultural influences in the form of music can present interesting ethical dilemmas, from the glorification of violence and drug use, to the subordination of women. These ideas most definitely influence how I think about right and wrong. What I took from the post was the huge variety of sources that impact how I think about the world, and that I hadn’t really considered until reading your post.

    • Wendy Walker says :

      Ah. that’s very interesting, Michael. Your musical tastes certainly encompass more “gritty” themes than mine do! I genuinely hadn’t realised that such music existed, which just shows how very “out of touch” I am with mainstream culture! Or maybe it’s the difference between living in the UK and in South Africa? I shall be asking my youthful friends (and patients) what their views are on this. My passion is for classical music, and to be honest most of the texts are in German, Latin or Italian, none of which I understand, so no moral challenges there!

      • Michael Rowe says :

        I see. You need to explore Eminem and Jay Z. It’ll be a mind altering experience 🙂

  3. Chantelle van den Berg says :

    Hi Wendy. Fantastic thought-provoking post. I agree, it’s so easy and natural to follow the path of least resistance, to only upon reflection realise the truth, gaining a sense of understanding and personal growth. I also believe that one can find inspiration in anything that speaks to you… So if religion helps you get clarity to make sense of this world, then so be it. Literature & poetry, music, historical events, quotes by inspirational people, religious/spiritual scriptures and teachings, cultural/societal standards and practices… All of it can influence our beliefs, opinions and social behaviour. Balance is required as ones personal morality can interfere with authentic empathetic engagement, human kindness and neutral patient-therapist relationships. Great post!! 🙂

  4. noameitan says :

    Hi Wendy, great post. You are so right about literature, I spent so many hours reading and there are some books who influenced me deeply, of course they influence my morality as well. As for the ideas in the Sam Harris TED talk, I struggled with that and I have to admit I disagree with him. I think is opinion is a little bit too simplistic for me.. I’m not religious and some might say I’m atheist but I grew up in a country where religion as a lot of influence on life, but religion is an option not an obligation. I think once you know personally people who choose to act in a certain way because of their religion and you understand nobody forced them to do what they do you can’t agree with that idea. I’m not saying that is the case in every situation,I’m just saying we must look at any case individually and not to generalize. And again, great post, great insights.

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