April 20, 2012
By Matt Palmer
“Step out of self-righteousness to moral humility.” Jonathan Haidt
When we take a look at history, it is amazing to see how far we have advanced, particularly in the last 200 years. Man’s ingenuity and ability to tackle complex problems has resulted in major scientific, technological, and medical advances that have radically improved the quality of life of societies around the world. Often the people credited with making great discoveries, were outliers, creative and divergent thinkers, who found ways to push the limits of what others thought was impossible or maybe just too hard. How do we inspire the next generation of outliers?
After writing my first blog post about values yesterday, I found this great TED talk that I have posted above by Jonathan Haidt. He is a social psychologist who studies morality across different cultures. In this TED talk he looks at the moral roots of liberals and conservatives. It spoke to me because Mr Haidt illuminates the problem of the moral divide we now face, and gives a solution to bridging the gap.
“If our goal is to understand the world, to seek a deeper understanding of the world, our general lack of moral diversity here is going to make it harder. Because when people all share values, when people all share morals, they become a team.”
Engaging in teams, Haidt argues, liberal – conservative, shuts down open-minded thinking. This is particularly interesting with regards to liberals, who are considered to be open-minded. Liberals, however, can be incredibly close-minded, and flat-out intolerant, when it comes to ideas or values that challenge their own.
Morals and values form the foundation of how we live. Our actions either affirm or contradict our values and morals, and when there is contradiction, we diminish our authentic selves.
Media constantly gets blamed for the increase in polarization, and the decline in our value systems, but this becomes an easy way to disregard our own complicity in the problem as consumers, or as actors when we disseminate this information to our social circle, very handily done now with social networking sites. We complain about nasty political campaigns, yet we do nothing constructive to change it. I have done some fascinating research into reframing issues, and one of the things they talk about is getting away from talking about conspiracies and hypocrisy, and rather moving to pointing out where political positions or arguments on social issues are inconsistent or illogical, or how they might violate deeply held societal values.
It becomes easy to point out problems, but more challenging to approach solutions, if we continue to stay stuck on teams. I am not suggesting we can get away from being on teams, but we can make new rules for how teams interact. Being self-righteous can feel safe, especially when that self-righteousness is shared by your team. Great things happen when we step out of our comfort zones, when we do things that are a little scary. Being an outlier, challenging the status quo, challenging team positions, takes courage and requires vulnerability. (see the great TED talk I posted previously by Dr Brene Brown on vulnerability)
There are a few political campaigns going on right now, including one in my province of Alberta, and there is a lot of nasty talk not just from politicians, but from the people of all stripes. My hope is that we can all step back and consider the level of rhetoric being used, and move away from a need to be right, to a place where differing views are accepted, no matter how distasteful they may be. Many spiritual teachings point out the world is a mirror to ourselves, our actions, our emotions. One of the hardest parts of tolerance, is not being intolerant of views and ideologies that are diametrically opposed to your own. In the end, we still must cast our vote for one political party, but how we behave, holding politicians accountable for their words, their promises their actions, is the best way of pushing change to the system.
The world exists in yin and yang, and this is necessary in order to have balance.
As Mr Haidt suggests “Step out of self-righteousness to moral humility”.