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The dying art of developing & using one’s moral compass
Dennis Wyatt

There is not an app for a moral compass.

And there will never be an app for a moral compass.

The values that shape what we as individuals ultimately decide what is right or wrong before we act can’t be digested as if they are a vitamin or clicked on as if they are something that algorithms can duplicate.

You can’t simply scan church doctrine, mouth a political sound bite, emulate what those in authority do, or Google the answer.

Morals — whether it is how you deal with people or take a course of action — aren’t cut and dried. 

Most people would agree stealing is wrong.

But the penalty needs to be dependent upon the actual crime and circumstances. An 8 year-old stealing candy is obviously not the moral equivalent of a 45-year-old bookkeeper stealing $450,000.

At the same time an adult desperate to feed their child stealing bread is judged slightly different than an adult stealing to feed a drug habit. 

Your moral compass operates in the real world much like a real compass. To reach a certain point a compass points you in a straight line. But along the way you need to forge rivers, navigate canyons, and climb mountains. Ultimately you reach your destination. Your path may not have been the straight and narrow because you never would have reached your goal. Instead you took a path that dealt with obstacles — call them mitigating circumstances — without losing sight of your objective.

Very few — if any — of us can say we stay on the straight and narrow every second as we make our way through life.

Life gives us plenty of opportunities to sharpen our moral compass while gauging our course of action. That said too often we try to adhere to the rigid straight line that we’ve decided is absolutely right and plow straight ahead refusing to temper our wrath toward those a few feet off the path we’ve beaten and certainly not for those on another road.

Sometimes when those among us determine they are the absolute authority on morality and others aren’t following the exact path they believe to be morally right, they inflict bodily harm up to and including death.

But in most cases when people aren’t following what we perceive as the “right path” or thinking we have what my Grandmother Towle called “hissy fits.”

Today it seems like we have non-stop hissy fits from the moment we wake up cursing getting out of bed until we return to the sack. That because among the first few things many of us do when we wake up as well as among the last few things we do before we go to bed is what we do throughout the day — stay connected with the world. The world, of course, that we tailor ourselves to via social media devices is a mirror of our own specific likes, prejudices, and values.

It’s no wonder why we have little tolerance and are so pre-judgmental of others that aren’t part of our little world. And with no obstacles to forge — the need to deal with things outside of our narrow path as opposed to the countless other paths people walk — our moral compass gets stuck just like a real compass can zero in on a false north reading. We think we are on the right and only path but are really being drawn to our own narrow perceptions meaning our moral compass is never tempered and remains rigid as we don’t take other facts or views into account.

It is why we are in danger of moving away from being a melting pot of ideas, cultures, views, and values and becoming a pot with fairly rigid layers much like oil and water.

If we lose the ability to join together as a society — which does not mean forsaking our particular tribes whether they are political, social, or cultural — we will never gain the experiences and exchanges needed so our moral compasses can function optimally.

No two people will ever share the same moral compass because no two people are exactly alike. We get that with simple snowflakes yet we seem to insist that people are — or must be — carbon copies of ourselves in order to be “right”.

As much as we’d like to lay this at the feet of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, either George Bush, Bill Clinton — you get the picture — the only people to blame are us.

Just like no one else can truly control your happiness they cannot control your level of civility. That’s all on you and me.

The tone we set in how we interact with others that are not like us whether it is based on views, socioeconomic factors, religion, skin tone, and such is all on us.

Blame Trump, Hilary Clinton, or a rotten apple in whatever collective grouping of people you want but at the end of the day you alone answer to yourself.

It’s easy to be self-righteous. It’s harder to develop and be guided by a moral compass.

Being self-righteous means you can make snap decisions based on your prejudices and values. Using your moral compass effectively requires you to constantly be open to new ideas and people and weighing what they see and how they act so you can establish standards of behavior that likely will change in small degrees as you travel through life.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.