This post is inspired by: @taliakerch @journeyoflife @kristinaljfom and @dan (Dan Larimer) among others. The point of this post is to discuss how best to teach children moral judgment in an increasingly complex society. I chose to highlight those bloggers because 1) they have nurturer instincts (they care about family and children) and 2) they have proven through actions that they care about the difference between right and wrong.
Decision making is the process of weighing choices. Often we have no way o really know the impact of our choices. The key aspect in my opinion to teach a child is not a rigid list of "don't do these actions" or a rigid list of "do these actions" because that in my opinion promotes obedience rather than true moral development. Instead I will promote the idea that we should teach children (those who are mentally/intellectually less experienced than ourselves) not obedience or compliance but an ability to communicate. Communicate what exactly?
The #1 rule is a person who does an action must be able to explain why they chose it
This is the only rule I have for people who make decisions. If a child or someone with less experience than me makes a decision I cannot make sense of then when I ask "why did you make that decision?" I will expect that they can explain the justification for their decision. If they can explain the justification for their decision even if it led to a negative outcome for them then I can know they at least did not intend for it to generate a negative outcome. In fact, if I make a decision myself then I always hold myself onto a standard where I can explain my own decision to the people who care about me even it turned out to be a bad decision.
If mom or dad makes a bad decision or a good decision they should explain to their children the justification of any decision they've made. This allows the child to learn from the parent how to prioritize their intentions and also how easy it is to make a bad decision even with the best intentions. The child can develop moral sophistication by exploring by introspection why they arrived at certain decisions. I use the phrase "arrived at" because if the decision was made in a rational process then often we make it by way of process of elimination. In other words we couldn't find any better decision at the time.
Process of elimination is a rational process for decision making which all children must learn. What is process of elimination? Well you create a list of possible choices you can take and the expected outcomes that you think they'll create. Once you have this list you narrow the list by eliminating the possible choices which have expected outcomes which you anticipate will not be favorable. A parent for example who wants to protect their children above all else will highlight certain outcomes are being unacceptable and this will narrow their spectrum of behaviors by way of the process of elimination. The basic "weighing the pros vs the cons" is essentially the core behind process of elimination but it is important that a child learn the right values in order to create the right priorities. To protect others is an example of a value and to protect those you love is an example of a high level prioritization.
When you know your child has the right priorities then teaching morality is easy
If a child explains their decisions then you can get an idea of what their priorities were when they made it. So if the child made the decision to challenge a bully in school and so they got into a fight you might ask why they made the decision. If the child were to respond that they made the decision to protect their friend then you learn that the child values protecting their friend enough to risk themselves physically to do it. From here you can adjust how you communicate and teach the child based on these now known priorities.
Lists of rules or even the golden rule does not necessarily teach prioritization. The priorities are why people follow rules. In other words morality itself is based on what the individual values and then every decision is right or wrong based on the impact it has on what the individual values. When a child makes a decision which goes against what they themselves claim they value then ask them to explain their decision. Once they explain the decision then you can have a discussion about the decision.
Analysis of decisions and introspection
The most important skill in morality in my opinion is the ability to have introspection. If you can evaluate your own decisions and thoroughly analyze them then you can improve your decision making capabilities going forward. If you made a good decision or a bad decision in a lot of ways is up to chance (what was the outcome?) but you can learn more about yourself and your own decision making process. For example if you made a decision because of your religious convictions or spirituality you can make note of that as being your inspiration. You can learn whether or not religious or spiritual decisions are leading to better outcomes for you than to rely on chance, gut instincts, or rationality. In other words you can develop an ability to compare approaches to decision making which is in my opinion the highest form of morality because if you can do that you can continuously refine your approach to improve your decision making capacity over time.
The most important skill to teach children is the ability to explain their decisions. Rather than a mere list of rules and then punishing all who break them (promoting obedience) it is better to promote moral development. This means promoting introspection where the ideal situation is for a child to think about every decision they make. If they have to explain the decision they have to apply introspection to reveal what they were thinking when they made it. If they made the decision without thinking then this is something for the parent to correct.
The ability to compare approaches to decision making is the highest form of morality. It's not merely about following rules, or compliance, or doing what everyone else does. It's ultimately a process not all that difference from science where from observation, experiences, and time, it is learned which approaches are winning vs losing approaches. In other words it does not assume any approach to decision making is always going to be the best or optimal but instead encourages the individual to become a practitioner of introspection and continuous evolution as their knowledge level improves.
For more on this topic take a look at the blogs of those who inspired my post:
- Dan Larimer: Mutual Aid Society
- Talia: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: HOW TO TEACH NAUGHTY KIDS
- Farwa: Why is it so difficult to trust ?
- Kristina: Friends are Our Wealth
From their many blog posts you can see their priorities. Each of these blogs are an example of "why" certain decisions are made. The blog post by Kristina for example reveals the value of friendship (social wealth). This value can be used by a person to explain a decision which prioritized friendship. The post by Talia highlighs her concern for children and the moral development of children in specific. That too is a value which can be used to understand her decisions. The post by Dan Larimer on Mutual Aid Society highlights that he values the community. This can put into context some of the decisions he is making with EOS and his intentions to make sure that what he develops always benefits people. Finally the post by Farwa highlights the value of trust and why it's difficult to find people to confide in. This can show people that being trustworthy is valuable (because it's scarce) and people can prioritize their decisions based on that.