“When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary;
when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”
― Émile Durkheim
As a interfaith/interspiritual minister and organizational psychologist, I often consider the overlapping schemas of culture and spirituality. My primary spiritual path is contemplative Christianity and it fosters an expanding new awareness about the interesting mergers between culture and spirituality through the work of many prominent authors and researchers. Among the list is social psychologist and moral researcher Jonathon Haidt, Franciscan and author Father Richard Rohr, philosopher and author Ken Wilber, and the authentic leadership research of Avolio, Luthans, Seligman, George, and others. It almost sounds like the beginning of a good joke; a Catholic, a philosopher, a psychologist, and a researcher walk into a wine tasting. The merging ideas, as I wrestle with them, are the subject of this brief and admittedly over simplistic article. Therefore, this article only offers a few sips of some very tasty topics. My purpose here is to begin a discussion about creating some new moral norms and further the discussion of spiritual develop of the individual, organizations, and culture.
Jonathon Haidt, PhD and his colleagues research the moral roots of the political and religious landscape (see YourMorals.org). Haidt’s research describes moral differences between personality types and political and religious orientations. The research identifies six moral foundations including Care, Liberty, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. Empirically speaking, the liberal person’s moral makeup is high on Care (compassion and service), Liberty, and Fairness and the moral foundation of Care takes precedence among decisions regarding the other five foundations. The conservative person’s moral makeup is fairly even across all six foundations. Haidt explains that conservatives are highly loyal to their group and protective of their symbol system. He adds that group loyalty often binds a person to the tribe but blinds the person to any perspectives outside the tribe. Furthermore, research indicates that conservatives typically score significantly lower than liberals, across cultures, on the personality trait ‘openness to experience’. The liberal mind has better understandings of some moral foundations and the conservative mind has better understandings of others. Haidt claims that politics really is religion, because it is treated as sacred. Anyone who proposes an opposing view is stepping on sacred ground.
When perspectives are broken down into two categories (e.g. liberal and conservative), the perspectives become dualistically layered with antagonistic and oppositional thinking. Richard Rohr provides helpful and useful explanations of this phenomenon as well as a path to third way—third eye—thinking. Drawing on the work Ken Wilber and the wisdom mystics, Rohr describes a three stage model of development: construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. The conservative mind creates (constructs) the first ego construct of what the world means (a first understanding of social systems, human nature, culture, education, development, impulse control, self identity, boundaries, rules, guidelines, etc.) and then won’t allow that system to be criticized. Not only does the conservative mind disallow deconstruction, they also spend much of their time shoring up boundaries and protecting the constructed container. On the other hand, the liberal mind gets trapped in deconstruction, constantly picking things apart thinking that makes them smart. A theology of suspicion is part of the liberal ego construct.
Moreover, both conservation and liberal minds avoid reconstruction. Both are attached to a need to win, a need to look good, a need for correct image, and the antagonistic and oppositional thinking continues. Even the social activist with the right politics and social analysis can live in the world of meritocracy. Rohr makes it clear that until something breaks down the glib assertions of the ego, neither the conservative or liberal mind will move into reconstruction. The contemplative mind (nondual mind, mystical mind) works through the stages of construction and deconstruction into the stage of reconstruction. They are not naïve, they face evil and the rational, and see the limitations of both, then move into reconstruction…yes-yes-and-more. Rohr makes it clear that the ego oppositional mind is active during both stages, construction and deconstruction.
Rigid oppositional thinking exists in the construction and deconstruction stages. If the oppositional mind is engaged, then efforts to compromise are perceived as a ‘sell out’ or that the will of the people is going to be compromised. If a person or culture is angry, cynical, dualistic, critical, depressed, or suspicious, then that person of culture will create programs, systems or solutions that include those characteristics. Additionally, anywhere there is ambiguity, there will be perspectives steeped in confirmation bias and demonizing. We must be cautious not to attribute a different perspective to evil motives. Even if those motives exist. Whether we view spiritual development through three stages as described by Rohr, or nine stages as described by Ken Wilber, it is important to remember development occurs differently for each person and culture. Wilber emphasizes the prime directive of development; there must be balance at all stages and any attempt to eliminate or bypass a stage will result in negative effects. Rohr also claims that there is no non-stop flight from construction to reconstruction and anyone who starts in deconstruction will eventually find themselves in the construction stage. That is one reason Rohr states that construction is the best place to start; to be grounded in guidelines with boundaries allows one to transcend those guidelines later. The dynamics of development create a calling for sound leadership. So, briefly I will add that the Authentic Leadership model (George, Avolio et al.) provides practical aspects for healing and guiding the development stages. The key competencies of authentic leadership are self-awareness, a balanced moral perspective, relational transparency, and multiple perspectives taking ( more on authentic leadership in a future article).
At my current stage of thinking, I agree with Haidt, we must create a new moral norm to stop demonizing. It creates and magnifies otherness. I hope that you will begin an explorative dialogue in your community regarding the following issues:
(1) How do we create a new normal to not demonize others or their motives when there is disagreement?
(2) What practices can we begin to offer as a path to the reconstructive, nondual, contemplative mind?
(3) What activities would foster the development of authentic leadership’s core components; balanced moral perspective, self-awareness, relational transparency, and the ability for multiple perspectives taking?