As discussed in our previous post, moral disengagement refers to the ways in which people rationalize about and frame inhumane acts. Mechanisms of disengagement allow us to tolerate–and even view as moral–such acts as invasion and torture.
Our topic today is moral engagement, in contrast to disengagement. As described by psychologist Albert Bandura, moral engagement involves a different kind of reasoning about harmful behaviors, as well as resisting any compliance with such behaviors.
Moral engagement requires moral courage–that is, a commitment to behaving morally in regards to others despite social pressures to participate in or passively comply with policies and actions that are hurtful to others.
Being morally engaged requires:
- Accepting responsibility for one’s own behavior
- Being sympathetic and empathetic
- Acknowledging the negative effects on others of inhumane behavior
- Recognizing that the “enemy”–whoever the enemy of the day might be–is a human being who shares a common humanity with oneself.
In Bandura’s view, one of the chief pathways to moral engagement is empathy, along with a sense of moral obligation to treat others humanely. A commitment to living by the Golden Rule is an example of such a moral obligation.
Trying to live a morally engaged life is a constant challenge. Can you think of examples when you or others you know have found it difficult to live by those principles, but have persevered? What kinds of circumstances help or interfere with living a morally engaged life?
In our next two posts, we consider the moral disengagement mechanism of euphemistic language, and its moral engagement counterpart, accurate descriptive language (telling it like it is).
Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology