Moral Landscapes

Living the life that is good for one to live

Mindful Morality, the Antidote to Intuition Addiction

Truthiness and Mindless Morality

Our intuitions make us feel like our views are right and true-- regardless of whether we really know anything-- and we believe them! We cannot escape our intuitions, good or bad. In fact, we are addicted to them (J.D. Trout, 2009). They lead us to see what we want to see and ignore disconfirming evidence. This is truthiness.

We can see evidence for truthiness all around us. Government regulators rubber stamped British Petroleum officials when they said they had "proven technologies" to handle a spill. BP officials, lacking moral imagination, failed to prepare for disaster appropriately, made critical shortculs to save money, and failed to attend to disconfirming information as the disaster came on.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

The key characteristics of truthiness are (a) full speed ahead with feeling and intuition---who cares if the facts match up or the intuitions are poor ones? (b) shallow reflection and (c) self-satisfaction with one's intuitions. The new book, The Gorilla in the Room, gives a nice review of how our intuitions can mislead. These are part of mindless morality.

Mindless morality is thinking that you are doing a good thing circumventing safety regulations to save a buck. Mindless morality is thinking that you are above the law, that someone else can pay for any damage you cause, and that your life is more important any other life. Mindless morality occurs when a person follows an ill-informed gut reaction or takes a particular endgoal or a rule or a habit and applies it to the circumstance with little reflection.

Mindless morality, operating on truthiness, can become a dangerous habit. From the headlines, it appears that mindless morality is common in the oil industry (there might be intentional vicious morality, but let's try not to impugn motives here).

Truthiness is bizarro world, according to mindful morality. That‘s because fake facts get you no where in solving real-world problems. Mindful morality is about solving real problems. Mindful morality involves reflection that leads to moral wisdom.

Mindful Morality refers to a morality that uses the higher capacities of the human mind, higher order thinking skills and executive functions like planning, foresight, modifying actions under changing circumstances, and caring about those who are not present. Thus, mindful morality moves us to take into account more than the immediate self or the immediate social relationship.

Mindful morality gets the facts, faces facts and stays emotionally engaged. It does not disengage emotionally to reframe immoral actions as moral.

How much did MMS officials and BP administrators analyze their thinking and planning?

Mindful morality pays attention to the facts but also keeps the heart involved. Mindful morality is not self centered. It is able to let the self go (as in Harmony morality) but with more imagination---with a greater awareness of effects for future generations and for people on the other side of the earth. Where were the hearts of the MMS officials and BP administrators? Were they thinking of their grandchildren? Were they thinking of other people's grandchildren in the gulf?

Mindful morality thoughtfully considers the future impact of one's action in the present. We can see mindless morality operating repeatedly in the oil business.

Niger delta has endured 50 years of oil spills.

The Ecuadorian Amazon region has suffered oil spills over several decades.

So how do we practice a mindful moral orientation? Here is a short list inspired by the BP, MMS mess.

1. Don't put money first. As the ancients (e.g., Jesus) pointed out and behavioral economists and others find in experiments, it poisons the mind. This has a line of related issues to avoid putting first, like possessions and status (the reason many people prioritize earnings).

2. Don't think you are above the law, especially of laws protective living things. Most laws are there for a good reason. What moral right do you have to harm another life?

3. Try to do things that do not have the potential to harm others. Pay attention to the risks and the naysayers and take them to heart. Try not to make a mess and have a backup plan for cleaning up after yourself.

4. Keep the awareness and attitude that other life is as important as yours. Foster empathy for all life. Having a sense of superiority to other humans or other forms of life is a dangerous idea related to violent and destructive behavior.

5. Check those intuitions: ask yourself, "What if the opposite were true? Is this an informed intuition based on extensive, in-depth experience? (If not, get more experience before deciding or acting if it affects other people.)

Mindful morality is built on our highest intelligence--so let's use it! By intelligence I mean the ability to flexibly respond in adaptive ways (adaptive long term not only short term). Adaptive ways are those that lead to more flourishing, for self and others. It's an inclusive orientation. We are all connected on a quantum level if not in other ways, so my actions affect your welfare and vice versa whether or not I/we are aware of it. "Adaptive" then means taking into account not only "our kind" but all kinds as part of the web of life.

Planning that is detached from this realization and from emotion, what is usually studied in psychology, often leads to a detached imagination that causes great harm to other lives. We look at it next.

See previous episodes of Truthiness and Morality:

The Dangers of Truthiness
Truthiness and Tricky Intuitions
Bunker Morality and Gorilla Tactics
Bunker Morality's Cultural Airspace
Harmony Morality: The Heart of Morality
Harmony Morality: Interdependence, Respect and Presence
Truthiness and Vicious Moral Imagination

Darcia Narvaez is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame and Executive Editor of the Journal of Moral Education.

more...

Subscribe to Moral Landscapes

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.