Monday, April 1, 2013

When Moral Values Collide

At home, you are a loving husband and father: empathetic, caring, and attentive. Here, you place a very high moral value on love, loyalty, and kindness. However, at work you are a mercenary that will do pretty much anything you can get away with so as to get ahead, and, accordingly, are hard, calculating, and ruthless. At home you are the paragon of virtue, always respectful and cherishing in word and deed. At work … well let’s just say people would be shocked that you went to church. And all of this rarely, if ever, gives you the slightest pause or even a hint of guilt over your glaring incongruity and hypocrisy. 

With all that lies within you, you assert that love is your highest moral value. You regale your friends with tales of a life-laid-down for others, are revered at church, and support numerous charities. So how is it that you so easily write people off who offend or disagree with you, and keep a list of every wrong ever done to you? And how do you so successfully pull off being Mother Teresa at home and in your spiritual community, but at work you are the Queen B@#ch from hell? How do you avoid the stress of cognitive dissonance that comes from holding contrary beliefs and moral values?

“Get real, Monte. Some behaviors and conversations are appropriate to home that are not appropriate to the work place, and vice a versa.” I agree. But, alas, this is not what I am writing about. “Okay, but there are going to be times when we have to put some things out of our minds, such as empathy: to isolate our feelings so we can do our work … like soldiers in Afghanistan needing to push away their loneliness or concern for family, so that they can get the job done.”  Good one. Are you deflecting? Isolating thoughts from emotions can be a useful tool, as long as we get to a place where they are wedded again, as soon as possible. (Or expect some massive therapy bills later in life.) But I am not referring to this, either.

I am referring to holding moral values and beliefs at home (for example), while behaving according to conflicting values and beliefs at work or elsewhere. It is one thing to have different yet complimentary values from arena to arena. It is quite another thing to actually defy moral values and beliefs we call sacred in another context. How is that we can pull this off with no stress, no guilt, and no chocolate mess?

We compartmentalize!

Compartmentalization is when you have two or more conflicting beliefs or moral values, and take each of them and place them in separate mental boxes. A very useful and effective defense mechanism that allows you to tell yourself, “This has nothing to do with that. In fact, that is irrelevant, in this context!” Phew! Glad you cleared that up.

Man of integrity in this arena, Captain Jack Sparrow in another arena.

Sister Prim Evergood with your family and spiritual community in this file, Lady Gaga when out with the gang from the office in that file.  

Conflicting beliefs and moral values: not a problem. All we need are some mental filing cabinets, decent acting skills, and a certain level of expertise at rationalizing. O, and a caviler attitude toward your soul, reputation, sense of personal honor, and those whom you truly love, also comes in handy.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013  

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