Jul 112012

Last week, I discussed the research of James W. Fowler, a Methodist minister, into the developmental stages of faith. Dr. Fowler built his ideas on the pattern of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. This is also worth considering.

Dr. Kohlberg found that moral development was revealed by one’s attitudes toward justice and how one reasoned on, and resolved, moral dilemmas. Related research identified justice as a masculine orientation and added caring as the corresponding feminine. At each stage of development, our moral behavior becomes more responsible, nuanced, and predictable.

Young children (and some poorly-developed adults) judge the morality of an action by its immediate consequences. Snatching a cookie or running a stop sign are just fine so long as you are not caught and punished. The focus is on personal benefit without considering ethical standards. Obedience can only be enforced with the threat of punishment.

The next stage is able to consider the needs of others, but only to the point of  deciding how to get what one wants. This is the “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” attitude of moral relativity.

Adolescents usually begin to judge the morality of a situation according to the expectations of authorities within their culture. They are willing to comply obediently because they are convinced that “it is the right thing.” This rigid morality typically views things very strictly in terms of “black and white.” A “good boy” or “good girl” conforms to accepted social roles. Morality is usually judged by intent and how an action affects relationships.

Some people understand that social order requires voluntary compliance to the standards of their community. They accept that laws must be obeyed and personal sacrifices made because it is their duty. They will stop at all stop signs simply because it is the right thing to do and because it sets a good example for others.

As it becomes obvious that different cultures hold different expectations, laws become regarded as adjustable social contracts within each community. The most important consideration becomes an understanding of “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” The operation of an effective Democracy requires this understanding and acceptance of compromise as inevitable for the common good.

Eventually, moral reasoning stops being derived from others; it depends on an individual appreciation for ethical abstractions and universal principles. This is not the same as moral relativity. Each person becomes responsible for deciding that he or she cannot march neighbors into gas chambers, no matter what. If a law is unjust, there is an obligation to disobey it. There are fewer arguments about rights, but more empathetic consideration of what is right. This stage is still considered rare.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Apr 102012

I was discussing the concept of  “developmental levels of worldview” with a friend. She keep wanting to imagine that my description of a hierarchical, predictable sequence of developmental stages suggested increasing “smartness” or “betterness.” I was having trouble getting across the ideas that any worldview stage is perfectly fine so long as it serves the needs of your current circumstances and does not oppress others.

Eventually, I suggested that progressive developmental levels was like a progressive experience of elephants:
[This does not accurately represent my belief system; it’s just an imaginary hierarchy of experience.]

  • What’s an elpherbunt? (simply no clue)
  • I have heard of elephants.
  • I have read a story about elephants. (unable to independently anticipate the experience of an elephant’s subsonic rumbles)
  • I have seen an elephant at the circus.
  • I have watched elephants at the zoo. (the most common limit to likely developmental stages)
  • I have lived with elephants in the wild. (few people would even imagine that anything more was possible)
  • I have memories of being an elephant.
  • I have always been an elephant. (few elephants would even imagine that anything more was possible)
  • I am the race memory of all elephants.
  • I Am that I Am. (God’s description of himself in Exodus)

Each stage is adequate for the needs of certain individuals in certain circumstances.

At each stage, some greater [effort or] involvement has been achieved to have had a larger understanding.

At each stage, it is difficult to explain the experience adequately to some who has not been there.

At each stage, it is difficult to imagine the richness of knowing involved in additional stages.

I’m not suggesting that all of these stages are actually plausible for an individual. But, then again, how could you actually be certain of that unless you were I Am?

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May 272011

Individuals generally derive their identity based on the groups to which they belong. Sometimes group membership, when the group is seen negatively, causes the members to suffer low self-esteem. Consider the various groups to which you belong.  What instance(s) can you relate from your life in which membership in a certain group caused you to have low self-esteem?

Having someone criticize the community to which you belong does not have to direct your self-esteem. Your response is dependent on the nature of your own character, values, and worldview. Continue reading »

Sep 302010
From TED.com

Sebastian Seung is mapping a massively ambitious new model of the brain that
focuses on the connections between each neuron. He calls it our “connectome,”
and it’s as individual as our genome — and understanding it could open a new
way to understand our brains and our minds.
[Jump ahead 2 minutes.]

Sep 202010

Being True to the Best of What You Are: An integral fable of personal development and transformation

A farmer was out walking with a guest, who was a hunter. A beautiful eagle soared gracefully above them, just keeping an eye on things below. Suddenly, without giving any word, the hunter raised his gun, sighted on the bird and shot it dead. It flapped to the ground and landed with a sad “whump.” The hunter walked over to the bird and nudged it with his boot. Yep, it was very dead. The farmer didn’t say anything. He didn’t approve but the hunter was his guest and killing animals is what hunters do.

Knowing that the eagle had its nest in a nearby tree, the farmer climbed up, swaying in breeze, reached into the nest and put the two small eagles in the large pockets of his baggy pants. Protecting living things and helping them to grow is what farmers do. When they got back to the house, the farmer put the eagles with his chickens. They learned to eat bugs and seeds and they grew up strutting around the yard just like their chicken brothers.

But, one of the young eagles was not happy. “I’m different,” she told her brother, “I just don’t feel like I belong on the ground walking around pecking at bugs and seeds.” Her brother was quite content, however, and said, “Don’t make trouble. The farmer is good to us chickens. He throws us enough corn that we don’t starve and we get to hang out all day with our friends.” The first eagle wasn’t convinced. She pointed out, “I like to stretch my wings and feel the breeze. I can see clearly the trees on the far hill and I wonder what is there.” Her brother said, “Your eyes are good enough to find bugs. Bugs don’t move fast and they don’t take any trouble to swallow.” His sister replied, “My claws are long and curved; I wish I could wrap them around things instead of just standing in the dirt. My beak is stronger and more curved than my chicken brothers; I think that I am better suited for other work.” Her brother said, “Just relax. Your claws and beak are fine. They scratch deeper and peck harder. Frankly, our lot in life stinks but you and I are big and strong so we can tell the other chickens what to do and push our way to the best eating spots.”

An owl had been listening to the conversation from a nearby tree. He spoke only to the eagle that was ready and said: “I can help you. You are right that you are different. You are an eagle and you are different from your chicken brothers. You are also different from your eagle brother because he is content with his situation while you want to discover the best of what you are.” The eagle replied, “That sounds interesting, but will it be frightening?” The owl laughed, hooted “Of course,” swooped down, grabbed her and soared up into the air. Higher and higher the owl carried her. “You are Eagle; your wings are for soaring; your keen eyes see the smallest movement in the distance; your sharp claws and beak are for the hunt. This is what eagles do.” And with that, the owl let go of the young eagle.

Oh yes, it was frightening. But, the young eagle caught the air with her wings and it propelled her forward; she shifted her tail and discovered control. She screamed an eagle’s scream: not in terror but with the thrill of discovery and the joy of being and doing. Below, all the field mice and rabbits and chickens and even her brother scurried for the shadows. Above, the eagle caught the rising breeze and thought about what had just happened.

Over and over, starting with the struggle to hatch out of her shell, she had had to make changes. There always came a problem that was too important to ignore. Sometimes she had to solve the problem herself and sometimes someone else, like the owl, helped her. It was frightening and frustrating and always uncertain and very hard work, but the change was worth the effort. Like hatching, each solved problem led to a new stage of life and a new understanding. She knew things now that she couldn’t have even guessed at before. She wondered about what change and growth might come next. But one thing was for certain – she was looking forward to it.

Thoughtful questions for students:

(“Before I ask some questions about the story, would you like to hear it again?”)

  • Why wasn’t the unhappy eagle just being a grumpy and complaining chicken?
  • Is being unhappy always bad?
    (If we are unhappy with our present situation, then we may decide to work to make our situation better.)
  • Who can you go to for help with a problem?
  • Why is it frightening to try something new? Is it okay to be worried?
  • Why does it take hard work to make a major change or learn something new?
  • Do you think that the eagle left behind will ever be truly happy as a chicken?
  • What changes do children make as they grow up?
  • Do you think that adults ever stop growing and changing?
    (Yes, some get stuck and stop trying, but life-long-learners have better lives.)

[A similar story is known as “Fly, Eagle, Fly” and is taught in elementary schools as an African Folk Tale. A story like this was told by Patty Grant Long on August 25, 2005 during a workshop–program on “Healing the Soul Wound” (Multi-generational Trauma). Ms. Long is a therapist (alcohol and drug abuse counselor) with Analenisgi, in Cherokee, North Carolina. It is adapted here from memory by David Satterlee.]

Copyright 2005, David Satterlee

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