Monday, October 29, 2012

A Return to Virtue

In my church's youth program, the young women have a theme which they say each Sunday before our sunday school lesson. This theme has eight core values which the girls strive to develop. Each week they stand and recite the following:

WE ARE DAUGHTERS of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love    Him. WE WILL “STAND as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9) as we strive to live the Young Women values, which are: Faith • Divine Nature • Individual Worth • Knowledge • Choice and Accountability • Good Works • Integrity • and Virtue
WE BELIEVE as we come to accept and act upon these values, WE WILL BE PREPARED to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.
The most recent value they added was virtue. The ability to maintain high moral standards. Recently more and more people are starting to notice a turning away from virtue. Rather than focusing on teaching our children to have character, we are teaching them they should learn how to navigate right and wrong themselves and let them figure out what is best.

I recently had a conversation at work about honesty which has caused me to think a lot about this lately. 
In this conversation about honesty, Jane Doe tells me that she feels it is okay to lie at work if you are caught doing something wrong if it will bring bad consequences for you. I know we each were raised with different values, but since when did it become okay to lie as long as it makes you look better? How trust-worthy does that make you sound?

But I realized, this isn't just a singular incident. Everywhere around us, people are told to reason for themselves what is right and wrong. Instead of society having a consensus of what is moral and immoral, we'll just find what works best for ourselves.

When will we as a society figure out that morality should not be rationalized? People are coming to see virtue and character as something we have to develop only when a tough decision is placed in front of us instead of developing it every day. We need more people willing to pay the price each day to build integrity and character, to make the decision now, and not wait until the next moral dilemma occurs. It's easy to rationalize in particular circumstances what is right or wrong, but if we have a moral compass to point us in the right direction, we won't have to rationalize, we'll already know where our standards are and can make a decision based on principles.

I read chapter eight from Jonathan Haidt's book The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom this afternoon I found interesting. The chapter is entitled "The Felicity of Virtue." Essentially his argument is the same. That we are losing values of society due to this moral relativity. He gives a call for people to return to virtue for the sake of society.

I believe that we have indeed lost something important – a richly textured common ethos with widely shared virtues and values. Just watch movies from the 1930s and 1940s and you’ll see people moving around in a dense web of moral fibers: people are concerned about their honor, their reputation, and the appearance of propriety. Children are frequently disciplined by adults other than their parents. The good guys always win, and crime never pays. It may sound stuffy and constraining to us now, but that’s the point: some constraint is good for us; absolute freedom is not. Durkheim, the sociologist who found that freedom from social ties is correlated with suicide, also gave us the word anomie (normlessness). Anomie is the condition of a society in which there are no clear rules, norms, or standards of value. In an anomic society, people can do as they please, but without any clear standards or respected social institutions to enforce those standards, it is harder for people to find anything they want to do. Anomie breeds feelings of rootlessness and anxiety, and leads to an increase in amoral and antisocial behavior. Modern sociological research strongly supports Durkheim: one of the best predictors of the health of an American neighborhood is the degree to which adults respond to the misdeeds of other people’s children, rather than look the other way. When community standards are enforced, there is constraint and cooperation. When everyone minds his or her own business, there is freedom and anomie.
We need a return to virtue. Without it, life becomes unstable. Happiness is fleeting because we have no purpose to our lives. Nothing to work for, with nothing to gain. Whether you believe in basing moral standards on religious beliefs or not, the need for a return of virtue is a call for everyone for a better place to live.

Do you agree? Do you think there is a need for a return to virtue? Or am I too narrow-minded? Have we evolved to a case by case basis for what is right or wrong because it is a better way? I'd love to hear your thoughts.