If a five dollar bill flutters out of the pocket of the person walking in front of you on a busy street, do you grab it and hurry ahead to return it to them? Good. Now what if it’s a hundred dollar bill? Okay – and now what if you found that hundred dollar bill on the floor of an airport?
Each of us has their own understanding of morality and our own standards – a highly personal, somewhat elastic set of rules that we each formulate without necessarily even knowing we’ve done so – that confirms for us what’s right and what’s wrong. Our individualized rules may be based on learned morality, religion, law or – most likely – some combination of all three. Of course, our personalized rules are not laws; they exist only inside our own heads, where they help guide us in making individual decisions on a daily basis.
And, without actual legislation in place to guide us in many of the choices we make, one person is likely to do something that fits within their personalized boundaries of what’s acceptable – but which looks pretty shady to someone else. What’s more, even within our own rules we don’t always choose to do the right thing. The levels of tolerance for that are pretty elastic too.
Many people like to feel like they’re morally justified in their decisions, and will come up with some pretty convoluted rationalizations to validate their actions. That’s why it’s really important; more so than ever, to recognize that we are making personal decisions every day when it comes to morality. Unless we’re talking about laws, there’s no absolute right and wrong (and many would argue – especially today – that laws are far from absolute), so those choices are our own to make.
We each need to be able to live with our own choices – both for ourselves and for how they affect other people.