I have always considered myself to be a person who has always been inside his head. I can confidently say I’ve annoyed my parents enough times with the question “why?” I questioned their word, the word of my teachers, and just about anyone had any authority over me. Naturally, this left a poor taste in the mouths of some of my superiors. All of this questioning I do can be somewhat fatiguing. I have had enough headaches and sleepless nights to support that claim. But, I still to continue to do it. I try to challenge and sophisticate my moral principles through reading, conversation, and questioning.
You may be wondering why someone would be so honest to admit that they have a fluid morality when many would gasp at the claim. Much of what we know about our morality is a result of our social conditioning. We learn from our family, our friends, our media, our cultures, and communities to determine what we believe to be good or bad, right or wrong, and heroic or evil. No two people are conditioned by the same social experience, not even identical twins (close, but no). Naturally, we all contain different moral principles. Though, how we respond to the morality of other’s is part of the central theme here. Across all cultures and communities regardless of size, there is no universal set of moral principles. Communities and cultures exist within their truths – such as women are to be submissive, or conversations about sex should be normalized. That differs from an objective or factual truth – such as the earth not being the center of the universe. Conflicting and similar moral principles highlight one significant aspect of humans – we all can't be right, but we like to think we are.
The parties involved in moral conflicts sometimes struggle to understand the reasoning, whether it be sound or flawed, of the other and are unable to build upon their own reasoning (the presidential election season is an excellent example). In the age of social media, we can curate our feeds exactly how we wish. Unfortunately, that only aligns us more with our currently held beliefs, so much so that we will distance ourselves from people who do not quite see eye to eye with us. How many times have we deleted someone based on their political candidate of choice? Raise your hands high because I’ve caught myself doing the same.
What can we do to change that? You, the student, are in an excellent position to be one of the best thinkers in our society. We are more culturally aware than we ever have been before and we understand more of how our world works compared to the college students of previous generations. But, we could do better. To start that endeavor, I encourage you all to take an ethics class. Now, I know it may not be the most appealing kind of encouragement (yet, I still am going to try and convince you).
Most of our course schedules are filled with classes that we would be more or less thrilled about. Ethics courses are usually taken by people who needed an elective and who were appealed by the course description and title. An ethics instructor may open your class with a thought-provoking exercise. My medical ethics instructor did just that. To summarize the exercise into a question, if you had the option to plug yourself into a simulator where you could experience anything you wanted for a certain amount of time only to then select a new experience of your choice, would you do it? Why or why not? Everyone in my class gave their reasons for why they would or would not attach themselves to the simulator. My professor was quick to give her witty questions and comments regardless of our side of reasoning. She stumped all of us. I could tell she was an intelligent person. She did not let any personal bias of hers show at all. The idea of the experiment was to demonstrate the constraints we place on our reasoning or the ways in which we are “plugged in.” From her words, “the goal of this course is not to change your mind, but for you to use your mind.” I anticipated the conversations within our class to be enlightening and engaging. Our conversations on the controversy surrounding physician-assisted dying, euthanasia, and the right-to-die movement have provided me more context and more questions as it did answers. I had to “shake my plug” a bit to understand the context of being a physician, patient, or judge in any of these scenarios. Our conversation surrounding abortion and treatment of impaired infants highlighted how sensationalized the media has been in taking the ethical issue out of context as well as the historical figures and theologians that have created arbitrary standards in determining personhood and viability. We also discussed how there exist no clear benchmark standard in determining personhood and fetal viability, yet we have laws and firmly held beliefs rooted in these shaky concepts (which tends to be the case in many bioethical issues).
Is it worth caring about being a better thinker? It scares people to try and move beyond themselves to look at a larger picture or to question the way things are currently. It almost may feel like a disservice to God, one's parents, peers, or oneself. However, being a critical thinker is a vital skill. It has implications in health care, business, our present election and future elections; you can use it anywhere you go, and it is not something anyone can rob you of. When we appeal to authoritative figures, our traditions, and anything else we are “plugged into,” we default back to our belief sets and we rob ourselves of the chance to question why our society operates the way it does. In some ways, I can understand. It’s a safer way of going about life. However, safer is not always better. As a future teacher, nurse, lawyer, CEO, police officer, judge, or physician, how will you respond to the ethical dilemmas that will be presented in front of you in the future? Will you acknowledge the ethical issues present and move beyond what you believe in? Or will you default back to your belief system and make decisions off of them? Maybe a lecture on ethics will help you figure that out.