Morality is a tough idea to describe. I do not know if we can ever know how a human would act if they never had intelligent contact with another human. Yet, if we would meet such a person would we judge his or her survival behavior as moral. If Shakespeare is right in saying, “In life, there is nothing right or wrong only thinking makes it so” then how do I define morality. So much of morality has a basis on what is right or wrong, just or unjust. Looking at so many cultures, so many people believe their view is the correct way. Yet, there do seem to be some common elements shared between cultures. For example, most cultures value the preciousness of birth and the care needed for a newborn.
Therefore, I will define morality at two levels. One level is the morality that is shared by just being human and one being a more subjective version (state morality) that comes from all that has influenced our lives and shaped how we believe and how we see the world. I think in my subjective version, there is a sense of relativity, as well. For example, a man develops a definition of what is right or wrong in very conservative black or white way of thinking, he supports anything the government says and has served in the military. This man has a child (a son) and experiences a joy and a love he has never felt before. He grows to soften and now sees war and young men dying, and start to question his previous hard-line thinking. As his son turns 18 and registers with the armed forces, he has a complete change in how he looks at his and other’s beliefs.
Another way that morality can change is from biological influences. While adolescence, especially from Islamic or Catholic religious upbringing, are encouraged to believe in abstinence, teen-age hormones can increase the desire for sexual encounters and challenge moralities. A conflicting behavior, like premarital sexual activity, can result in feelings of anxiety or guilt (Gardiner and Kosmitzki, 2005). Most of these moral conflicts have origins in what Piaget’s calls autonomous morality (Santrock, 2009); this is when older children become aware of their society’s rules and understand consequences.
This sexual example can also illustrate gender differences in morality. For many girls, especially in the west, society promotes and enforces gender expected behavior. Girls to women are to act with less aggression, more patience, and compassion, where boys are given far greater latitude for deviant behavior (which includes drinking, smoking, sex, and aggression). While laws may make these behaviors similar in consequences, females tend to get a harsher stigma such as acting un-lady-like (Santrok, 2009)
Sexual, gender and other morality differences can have even greater polarities when viewed from other cultures. In the states, morality seems to be in the eye of the beholder. The ideas are far more abstract and can change from furthering life experience. Other cultures, like that of India, have more stable boundaries centered on their beliefs that make morality less wavering. At a young age, children are taught values that are more based “universally living and respect” as practiced in Hinduism. Violations are not viewed in a hierarchy; instead, there is a specific way to view life and social rules for humanity and not much room for interpretation (Santrock, 2009).
Many people take on the beliefs that form values from their parents and their culture (Santrock, 2009). Yet, it is apparent that influences remain a part of our life throughout its entirety. This accumulation of continued experience may modify how we see things (and this too is influenced by our past because those experiences help teach us either to be more flexible in our thinking or more rigid) and change or modify our beliefs and alter our morality.
Santrock, J. W. (2009). A topical approach to life-span development (custom ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gardiner, H. W., & Kosmitzki, C. (2005). Lives across cultures: Cross-cultural human development (3rd ed., pp. 163-184). Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.