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home : letters : letters May 24, 2016

4/18/2013 10:16:00 AM
Basis for morality

To the editor:

Re: Recent letters by Ken Kressin and Mark Shaw.

The basis for morality is the need for a safe and healthy world to raise a family. Three levels of morality are: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. (Kohlberg) Pre-conventional, morality is self-centered and triggers the personal instinct to fight, hide, or flee. "I need a gun to protect my family!"

Conventional level aligns us with people we identify with. These groups, or tribes, range from family, to community, to special interest groups (go Vikings!) to a nation (USA! USA! USA!). At this level the instinctual response extends to the norms or rules of the group. "The Law for the Wolves" (Kipling) applies: "For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack." This level of morality triggers when we feel threatened by another tribe. "I need an army to protect my country!"

Post-conventional morality extends across tribal boundaries. This level of morality was discussed as early as 900 BCE. (Armstrong)

The Christian connection to this third level are the teachings of Jesus, where he commands: "love your neighbors as yourself." He then uses the Good Samaritan parable, involving sworn enemies to explain. Other examples are: "love your enemies" and "love those who hate you." These are great and challenging teachings, but are not uniquely Christian. These teachings are also attributed to Buddha (563-483 BCE), Confucius (551-479 BCE), Socrates (469-399 BCE), and other ancient wisdom teachers.

All three levels have their place. If you feel personally threatened, consider the best response for you - to fight, run, or hide When the Vikings play the Packers, be inspired to rambunctiously support your favorite team. But, we also need to know when our buttons are being pushed to deliberately manipulate our instincts, goading us into behaving in ways that are against our best interest. This is evident when the statements are designed to make us fearful - when there is little real evidence that we should be.

Gary Engstrom, Cannon Falls

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