OPINION: Moral development

Tin Bartolome - Hopechest

Posted at Aug 25 2017 05:08 PM | Updated as of Aug 25 2017 05:09 PM

From Kohlberg’s Universal Ethical Principles or principled conscience to Fowler’s Universalizing Faith, Piaget’s genuine cooperation (for 11-year-olds and older), Nouwen’s unifying philosophy of life to Peck’s Mystical-Communal, theories of moral development include a stage, the final stage actually, where the individual sees himself as part of a whole, allowing him to see and acknowledge the value in every living thing, especially other humans. However, Fowler acknowledges that few people reach Stages 5 (conjunctive faith) and 6 (universalizing faith). 

I recently came across a piece by Daniel Goleman entitled "The Torturer’s Mind: Complex View Emerges" that appeared in the New York Times in 1985. He writes about a 1974 study of 25 Greek members of the military police when the junta rules the country and Stanley Milgram’s works in the early 60s about how obedience allows ordinary people to inflict pain on the innocent. Goleman also pointed out that an unwavering belief in an ideology may allow the believer to consider other groups as evil and see himself as the protector of good, reinforced by the approval or support of peers.

He then discusses Dr. Ervin Staub’s “world of ‘us’ and ‘them’” which also involves putting less worth on the group considered “them”, citing the poor Southerners who looked down on the Black slaves and the Germans who considered themselves superior over the Jews. Goleman also says that Dr. Staub explained that the need to believe that the world is just even fuels the cruelty inflicted on others, implying that the victims “brought on their own plight…deserving what has happened to them.”

The quote "Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is (sic) three million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them" has made the headlines here and abroad. It implies that these drug addicts have brought this down upon themselves. Addiction has become a crime rather than a symptom of something that has gone terribly wrong. But addicts who are considered ‘us’ – relatives of the powerful—are not to be labeled as such unless due process has been served.

The Filipino concept of “ibang tao/hindi-ibang tao” may actually reinforce this so that iba and hindi iba become so polarized that those who belong to the group in power no longer see their kababayans who are “iba” as humans and may therefore be killed! This total lack of compassion has become even more obvious with the death of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

Perhaps the only remedy to this situation is for more people to reach the later stages of moral development mentioned earlier. What we learn in school and from our elders do not seem sufficient. Just being good may not be enough because empathy and compassion entail reaching out and feeling the pain of others. We cannot have compassion when we judge them and fail to see beyond their frailties or the reasons for their failures.

Indeed, it is only when we see ourselves and others as parts of a whole, when we know and accept that frailties are not the only thing we all have in common, but hope and faith in the Power within each of us that will make change possible. No one possesses the right to decide who should die, but the ability to nurture life is in all of us!

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.