3 Powerful Strategies To Help You Stick To Your Morals
Science can help us understand why our ethics get blurred, and what to do about it.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | September 22, 2022
We all like to view ourselves as moral beings, possessing a natural ability to separate right from wrong. However, science points out some glaring flaws in our moral code. For example:
- A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that immoral behavior is often permitted, or even encouraged, in cases where the perpetrator has been the victim of past unfair or unjust behavior. This tendency to allow for 'compensatory' immoral behavior may, 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 (not surprisingly) lenient when it comes to their loved ones behaving immorally. "Given our reliance on those we care about, it is far less costly, and preferable, to avoid seeing a close other negatively even in the face of their bad behavior. Leniency allows us to maintain our relationships," says Forbes.
These two findings help to explain why we often fail to keep each other in check 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 under difficult circumstances.
Strategy #1: Make your moral standards unambiguous
Sticking to a well-defined set of moral standards allows us to be self-respecting, upstanding 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 run, which could lead to serious psychological problems 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 may not benefit us immediately.
Gaining clarity over what you believe is right and wrong can help with any moral dilemma you are presented with.
Strategy #2: Be the one to break the chain of maltreatment
We often have no qualms about being mean to someone who is mean to us. However, like kindness, maltreatment can have an extended effect and can sometimes be paid forward to innocent people.
These innocent people, now having experienced maltreatment, will then pay it forward to other innocent people, causing a cycle of immorality that can be hard to break.
When you are in a moral dilemma and the 'wrong' option seems easier even though it may hurt an innocent person, ask yourself if you have it in you to 'break the chain.'
Doing the right thing by someone in spite of past circumstances is a great sign of moral fiber. This will not just enable you to stick to your morals but could also dissuade others from future immoral behavior, putting a stop to a potential chain reaction of unfair acts.
Strategy #3: Don't 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 this violates our code of ethics. This often comes in the form of attributing close others' bad behavior to situational factors (e.g., he was having a bad day) rather than internal, trait-based factors (e.g., he's a vengeful person). With strangers, we tend to do the opposite.
We should work to resist this urge. Try your best to grade everyone, friends and strangers, on the same scale.
Each of us has a unique and well-defined set of morals we live by. It is crucial, for our own wellness and the stability of society at large, that we examine these morals from time to time and make changes to keep our moral code as consistent as possible.