Culture values have a huge impact on how we develop our moral standards. There are a few studies on this that we can look closely at. There are biological, sociological and psychological approaches to understanding our morals. All the theories acknowledge that no single factor is causing moral or immoral behavior alone.
In an article written by William Damom for Scientific American, it caught my attention the study made by three Psychologists from different universities studying pre-school children in different cultures.
These studies conclude that “children start life everywhere with caring feeling toward one another and adverse reactions to inhumane or unjust behavior. Differences in how these reactions are triggered and expressed emerge only later, once children have been exposed to the particular value systems of their cultures”.
I have to say that it feels great to have found a study that talks about something that many of us feel that happen, but can´t quite express how it works. It´s quite clear to me that yes, culture is what changes our behavior. We are what our culture has molded us to be.
So, aware of this, what can we do to enhance our children´s morals? Well, some might say that morals are subjective, but let me be clear: when I talk about having a high moral standard I mean, for example, feeling empathy and thus helping others, so no, this is not subjective.
We could even compare which cultures have a more developed sense of morals. But that´s not the point. The point here is to make it clear that it´s our responsibility to raise our kids according to a good culture. This means that if you realize that you come from a culture where people are not behaving according to a good moral standard, it’s up to you to change the environment around your children.
I really mean it. If it takes you to change your friends and try to find a community where you find values practiced with a high moral standard, do it. If it takes you to move from your city or your country, do it. Whatever it takes you to do, do it.
The worst of our culture
Most of you reading this are western cultured people, like me. Can you point some bad aspects of our western culture? I can point out many, but I´ll say the worst of them all: consumerism. What does it have to do with morals? It has everything to do with morals. If you look closely at the problems consumerism is causing to people and nature, then you start thinking of the lack of empathy we are perpetuating.
Now, how do we change this? This is the hard part. It will take a complete rearrange of our culture to do so. And although this is tough, I´m optimistic about the changes I’ve been seeing around.
There are so many movies and documentaries talking about how harmful our consumerism habits are being to the planet and its people. There is a huge exchange of information about the subject going on, spreading awareness to what needs to be changed.
There are innumerous communities playing a change. I can mention a few like Free Economy, where people will learn, teach skills and borrow stuff all for free; Kiva, a loaning community for the sake of alleviating poverty; Couch Surfing, a community of travelers meeting locals and finding hosts for free with the purpose of exchanging cultures; the Zeitgeist Movement, which communicates the ideas of the Venus Project a project about redesigning our culture and so on.
For people who like to argue that it’s in human nature to be selfish, let me quote this other paragraph of that article that refers to studies made with babies: “All children are born with a running start on the path to moral development. A number of inborn responses predispose them to act in ethical ways. For example empathy—the capacity to experience another person’s pleasure or pain vicariously—is part of our native endowment as humans. Newborns cry when they hear others cry and show signs of pleasure at happy sounds such as cooing and laughter. By the second year of life, children commonly console peers or parents in distress.”
I know that kids later on practice a lot of what we call selfishness like not wanting to lend toys and their stuff. But that´s much more of o protection of one´s identity, it has nothing to do with selfishness. What I want to point out here is that empathy is proved to be in our nature.
That article goes on to say that in the next years of life, a mix of maturity and culture values will change that early predisposition to act in ethical ways. I say we can adjust our culture to serve the human predisposition to be good.
Utopian idea? Well, it sure looks like a utopian dream, but humans can have such a better time on this planet than what we are doing right now. The way we carry our cultures with no relation to the needs of the people or the capacity of the planet has to change.
It´s overwhelming to think of how this change will happen. I suggest we focus on the fact that it is already in process. The communities for the change are growing by the minute and if we take it step by step we will make a better culture in a near future. We can make a difference around our kids at home and around the kids close to us and around the kids not so close…
What do you say? Are you in it?