Life presents us with dilemmas requiring us to make choices. In decision-making, we generally pursue our own interests before the interests of others.
Our discussion is about what is right and what is wrong. A person may confront a morality question at three stages: personal, communal and other worldly or supernatural.
You may do or not do something because it is not in line with your conscience. Your colleagues may enjoy taking alcohol or drugs, but you choose not to because the substances may interfere with the greater goals of your life. You may have heard about individuals who were brilliant in school. But once they started working, they took to over-drinking and drugs and then lost the job-ending up derelict.
Faced with this situation, you decided to refrain from alcohol and drugs. But another says these extra-brilliant minds were ruined because they were doing things in excess. Just be moderate, alcohol and drugs will do you good. No, you say, I can refrain, but I cannot be moderate once I start taking the substances.
In everything harmful, prevention is better than cure. This is personal morality. You have only your own conscience to guide you.
Every community or tribe has a set of morals to which its members are expected to conform. For example, it is taken for granted that a boy may not marry his sister. But ‘sister’ has an extended meaning in some tribes where your father’s brother is not your uncle, but your senior or junior father. His children are not your cousins, but brothers and sisters. You have to avoid having sexual relationships with them because you fear communal disapproval.
Morals are often buttressed by superstitions. Some tribes believe that a girl who indulges in premarital sex will die of pregnancy when she is married. Here the girl abstains not only to conform but also to avoid labour complications in future.
The third type of morality has to do with the other world, the supernatural. These are revealed to the community by prophets. Christians find them in the Decalogue where they are commanded to have no other gods beside Yahweh and to respect the Sabbath Day. Ignoring these commandments is a sin likely to lead the sinner to perdition.
Dilemmas face us when we must decide to be either a good and loyal friend or a law-abiding citizen.
Imagine your country is in a state of war, someone passes secret information to the enemy, a series of ritual killings have taken place which nobody detected and you come across indisputable evidence that it is your closest friend who is engaging in these treacherous activities. If you inform the police, they will arrest him and he will get hanged. If you keep quiet, you will be punished heavily for a crime called misprision.
In such a situation, what do you do? Would you betray a friend or conceal the crime and put your liberty at risk?
There is no unanimous answer. People have to choose whether to conform.
In spiritual history, we note that it is the non-conformists who have eventually made the greatest impact on the history of the world.
Jesus was non-conformist in the Jewish faith. He healed the sick on Sabbath, arguing the day was made for man. He pardoned sinners in front of those who believed only God can forgive sins. Nowadays, billions worship him as a superhuman, the Son of God.
The world is full of the all-wise who freely give advice that discourage original thinkers.
There is hardly any modern marvel-cinema, flight to the moon, the X-ray and the aeroplane-which was not scoffed at as insane. The non-conformists went on with their experiments.
The great inventors and founders of major companies, including Henry Ford, were regarded by others as stubborn eccentrics.
It makes sense to listen to others, but the choice is yours. The fellow may be more fallible than you are.