Let's do a definition to start this off. Moral: Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character. Moral decision-making is basically how do we decide to do what we do based on whether it's right or wrong. And we understand what's right or wrong based on our culture, our training, our upbringing. All of these things tend to shape our moral decision-making. But there's something that goes even deeper than that and maybe you'll relate with me here on this.
I believe that ingrained in human beings is what I sometimes call a natural knowing. It's the ability to connect with something that is true naturally. I had an opportunity for a while to run treatment groups at a youth correctional facility. Now, this is a place where young people had been incarcerated for decisions that they had made. I noticed these kids all had a sense of what's right and what's wrong. At one particular group meeting, a member challenged me on this. “Well, what's right for me might not be right for you.” Moral relativism is fairly common in our society and that opened up a discussion. Now, some of these kids were there for very serious crimes. Others were there for maybe less serious but still morally incorrect things that they had done. I asked the group, “Hurting another person, right or wrong?” Everyone in the group answered it the same way. “How about taking something that doesn't belong to you? Right or wrong?” Again, consistent answers through the whole group. See, there's a natural knowing. Sometimes we call it our conscience.
Let's get to the psychological part of this. I have a model that shows the interplay between control and maturity. So, in the graph picture on the left vertical side we've plotted control. Control means control over your own life. It goes from zero at the bottom to 100% at the top. You can have all the control or you can have none of the control or somewhere in between. Usually it's somewhere in between. The other axis is where we plot maturity.
Maturity gets a little more complicated. The most common way to think of maturity is age. We think of birth being at the lower end. When you are born, you have very little control over your life. Well, how about as an adult at the other end of the maturity spectrum? How much control do you have? Well, I know that there's some small print that you might want to argue about, but for most adults it is way up there. Now, this line represents our control over our own life. As we gain maturity, we get to have more and more control. We make our moral decisions based on the level of maturity that we have obtained. As we move this direction, we have more and more internal control. And the external control is less necessary. A two-year old is not mature enough to control most aspects of their life, but a 17-year old is capable of more internal control of their life. Less external control by us is required for a 17- year old than a two-year old. It's interesting that this model accounts for people of any age because it's really about stage of development not age. Even an older person, if they're doing things for selfish reasons are probably not at the level of moral maturity as even a younger person who's doing things because it's the right thing to do.
Quick recap: We make our moral decisions based on our moral development. I hope that you found that helpful. And if you'd like to learn more about Nova principles, you can check out the website Novaprinciples.com.