Exploring Moral Imperatives for Our Times

Hand writing Morality with marker, concept background

It’s February, it’s dreary and cold and the days can seem very long. Add to that the continuing pandemic and the world seems to have been turned upside down. Maybe it’s time to do some deep thinking to try to gain focus and clarity and take our minds off all the insanity rather focus our energies on recognizing and then supporting moral imperatives.

To begin, I posed the following questions to myself and I invite you to think about them: what are moral imperatives? Are there things that are irrefutably moral? And if so, what kinds of obligations do we have because there are moral imperatives that should be guiding us?

First, let’s consider what a moral imperative is. According to the McMillan thesaurus, a moral imperative is something that must happen because it is right. The challenge here is to figure out who is deciding what is right and are there universal truths about what is right?

In an article, Dr. Oliver Scott Curry shares the following: “Morality is always and everywhere a cooperative phenomenon. And, as predicted by the theory, these seven moral rules appear to be universal across cultures:

  1. love your family
  2. help your group
  3. return favors
  4. be brave
  5. defer to authority
  6. be fair
  7. respect others’ property

In analyzing ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies (comprising over 600,000 words from over 600 sources), Dr. Scott found that these seven behaviors were considered morally good with examples of them found in most societies and none where they were considered morally bad. These morals were observed with equally across continents, not jusy ‘the West’ or any other particular area.

integrity, respect, values and ethics crossword in ivory letters against textured handmade blue paper,

It is important to notice fairness as a moral imperative. Being fair means being just. Being fair is not the same as being equal. Equal implies receiving the exact same amount where fairness is receiving what is needed or entitled to.

When we think about children in a family, they don’t all need equal amounts of food every day but rather need a sufficiency of food based on their nutritional needs. One child in a growth spurt might need more of a particular food group to nutritionally support that growth spurt while another child does not.

The larger moral imperative is that children deserve to be cared for in ways that meet their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, moral, relational and spiritual needs. Adults have similar rights but children do so because they are unable to completely care for themselves. I suggest that nurturing children in ways that promote these aspects of their lives is a moral imperative.

We can also consider moral imperatives in terms of what is just, and what individuals and groups of people entitled to. What are the universal rights we should all share?

All of these concepts are thought provoking and it’s easy to go down various rabbit trails in order to analyze them. But it can cause you, as it did me, to consider what is good, fair and right. You might think about what some of your moral imperatives are as you make decisions about what you can do to make the world a better place.

I suggest that we all share the moral imperative of promoting a stronger, healthier world where our rights to things like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are preserved. Exactly how to do that is a whole other question, of course. But I think it is helpful to start out with identifying what the moral imperatives are and let those decisions guide us.

Invitation for Reflection:

  1. Do you agree that there are some universal moral imperatives that should serve as a guide for all of us? If so, what are some of those moral imperatives?
  2. What are some of the challenges you face when you think about embracing certain moral imperatives and then seeing where there is injustice, unfairness, and people being denied what they are entitled to?
  3. What are one or two ways you can embrace at least one moral imperative that is true for you and then do something to promote it?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute


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