We all like to think of ourselves as moral beings, possessing a natural ability to separate good from evil. However, science points to some glaring flaws in our moral code. For instance:
- A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that immoral behavior is often permitted, even encouraged, in cases where the perpetrator has been the victim of unjust or unjust behavior in the past. This tendency to allow “compensatory” immoral behavior can, in some cases, cause a chain reaction of immoral behavior.
- Another recent study led by Rachel Forbes of the University of Toronto published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people are (unsurprisingly) lenient when it comes to loved ones behaving in immoral ways. “Given our reliance on those we care about, it’s far less costly to avoid seeing a loved one negatively even in the face of their bad behavior,” Forbes says.
These two results help explain why we often fail to control ourselves when it comes to doing the right thing. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve. Here are three practical strategies to help you stay true to your morals in difficult circumstances.
Strategy 1: Make your moral standards unambiguous
Holding to a well-defined set of moral standards allows us to be honest and self-respecting individuals. Our moral standards can also help us form valuable relationships with others.
Being loose with our morals, while it may benefit us in the short term, can cause us guilt and shame in the long term, which could lead to serious psychological issues such as anxiety and depression.
When faced with difficult choices, our morality can guide us in making decisions for the greater good even if it doesn’t immediately benefit us.
Gaining clarity about what you believe to be right and wrong can help resolve any moral dilemmas you face.
Strategy 2: Be the one to break the chain of abuse
We often have no qualms about being mean to someone who is mean to us. However, like kindness, abuse can have a long-lasting effect and can sometimes be passed on to innocent people.
These innocent people, who have now been abused, will then pay other innocent people for it, causing a cycle of immorality that can be difficult to break.
When faced with a moral dilemma and the “wrong” option seems easier even though it may hurt an innocent person, ask yourself if you have the ability within you to “break the chain.”
Having someone do the right thing despite past circumstances is a great sign of moral fiber. This will not only allow you to stick to your morals, but could also deter others from future immoral behavior, ending a possible chain reaction of unfair acts.
Strategy 3: Do not water down your moral standards based on circumstantial factors
We are more likely to excuse the immoral actions of people we care about than people we don’t know, even though we know deep down that it violates our code of ethics. This often takes the form of attributing the poor behavior of other loved ones to situational factors (e.g. “he had a bad day”, “he was under a lot of stress”, etc.) rather than internal factors. trait-based (e.g., “he’s a vengeful person”). With strangers, we tend to do the opposite.
Try to resist this urge. Instead, do your best to rate everyone, friends and strangers, on the same scale.
Each of us has a unique and well-defined set of morals by which we live. It is crucial, for our own well-being and the stability of society as a whole, that we examine these mores from time to time and make changes to keep our moral code as consistent as possible.