Searching For Morality
By April Knight
Fred Rogers said “appreciation in the moment for others is a sacred and moral act”. Could it be that simple? This idea has been on my mind since I arrived in Cuba. As a doctoral moral researcher, I’m here to interview twenty Cuban youth about their conceptualization of a moral experience. I’m staying in a home of a Cuban family, who has welcomed me and provided for every need I could wish for. Warm food made with love, compassionate check-ins to ensure my longing for my own family doesn’t consume me, and kisses on my cheek at every hello. This journey is more than a cultural immersion experience, it has forced me to examine the root of my interest in moral reasoning, in particular, situations that challenge human beings to behave in pro-social ways towards each other, or act in the best interest of another rather than self.
I could attribute my obsession with this phenomenon to the current political climate, the polarization of political parties, the lack of action to protect refugee children, the global inaction to protect the most vulnerable species on the planet, but these topics only describe my inspiration, not the seed of my intrinsic fascination with moral reasoning.
The truth is as a clinician, I’ve worked in inner city areas, rural areas, and cross-cultural demographics and the rules of moral engagement are applicable everywhere. In every culture, every society, and every age group of individuals are constructing moral justifications for how they operate in the world. On a spectrum from morally disengaged to morally engaged, from euphemistic labeling to truth telling, from advantageous comparisons to identifying better alternatives, to avoiding responsibility to excepting moral agency/responsibility, to miss representing or minimizing consequences to facing them head on, and from dehumanizing or demonizing others to humanizing others and their experiences (Bandura, 2016).
Where individuals fall on the spectrum of moral engagement in these domains are accurate indicators of their ability to apply pro-social moral reasoning. In moments where courage is required to navigate difficult situations, the social constructs of self, have an opportunity to dissolve. The moral integrity of the choice or action is the only anecdote to the discomfort and difficulty faced. Moral conflicts bring about a transcendent experience where the existence of ones’ humanity is either acknowledged or denied. Whether it’s self-preservation, lack of courage or confidence, inevitably it results in personal transformation. It is an opportunity to see oneself in the light of truth, without the social constructs of identity. This is true vulnerability.
This is why I’m a moral researcher, because with each story about experiences with moral conflict, I see humanity trying to be better, reckoning with the complexity of life; love, duty, and self-determination and there is nothing more admirable. As I listen, I too am transformed by the courage, the conscious effort to be morally engaged, and how the greatest self-sacrifices are often inspired by family, commitment, and love. Truth and a sincere interest in the well-being of others is the recipe for morality, but it is more than just experiencing it. As Fred Rogers said, it is witnessing it in another and appreciating them for being as beautifully flawed with similar challenges. For in these moments, we are one, and differences dissolve and common good can be achieved.
Bandura, A. (2016). Moral Disengagement: How people do harm and live with themselves. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, 2016. 446 pp.
Author, April Knight is a life-long resident of Martha's Vineyard and has worked on the Island for over twenty years in educational and mental health settings. She has a private practice and is finishing her PhD at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. In 2016 April was awarded the Vineyard Vision Fellowship Award, a doctoral fellowship to continue her studies in the field of International Psychology. In 2015 she received a Cultural Council Award for Publishing Writing for her poetry and in 1999 Clark University’s Outstanding Secondary Educator Award. She sits on various Non-profit Vineyard boards and consults for organizations internationally on organizational systems.