Episode 47: Moral Superiority

 In podcast

Moral Superiority shows up in our thoughts. It’s a slight judgment that could look something like, 

“Well, at least I’m not as bad as THAT guy!” 

Or maybe you’ve thought, “They’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing and I am” (cue raised eyebrows and an audible “hmph” )

As human beings, we are wired for connection. 

This is difficult when while social distancing.

But what is guaranteed to make it even harder is adding moral superiority to the mix.

Join me today as I talk about the consequences of feeling moral superior towards others

and how it’s more damaging to your confidence than you realize.

Welcome back, my friends! I hope you’re all staying in and making the most of this global pause. I know my younger kids are really enjoying it. My youngest daughter has commented on more than one occasion how much she loves this extra we have together and my youngest son in his prayers thanked Heavenly Father that we could spend so much time together. It’s really sweet. For the record, we homeschool so we’re home all the time together anyway but this eliminated a lot of the driving to and from our many various activities so we get afternoons and evenings together which I’m also grateful for. 

I know many of you don’t feel like you’ve experienced a pause. You’re still working, commuting, life seems the same but I want to invite you to look for the subtle ways you are experiencing something different. Look for the little pauses in your life. Like us, for the most part, life is still the same without the driving. School, work, music lessons, are all still in effect but it’s all via technology so we’re savoring the time we would have spent driving doing something else. 

So my invitation to you is to look for the pauses. I want you to choose to be intentional with that extra time no matter how limited it may be and choose to savor that time. Savoring is such a beautiful practice because it’s intentional. It’s taking in all the details, the moment, the scenery, the time, all of it and deliberately trying to remember and make a place for this in your memories. 

We are experiencing something new, on a global spectrum and I invite you to utilize this rare opportunity to find the good, praiseworthy, or lovely moments.

Let’s dive into today’s topic. I think it’s one that we can all identify with but it’s also good to be aware of and careful because it’s also one that most of us will take and try to beat ourselves up for and that’s not my intention in any way shape or form. In writing today’s podcast I want to bring to light a behavior and mentality that every one of us has had at some point and the consequences of that behavior.

It’s not to tell you what to do or what not to do. I don’t know what you need to do or how you need to show up. I just want to invite you to think about these things so you can make deliberate choices to show up and be who you want to be. 

I’m talking about judging and the concept of moral superiority today. 

Recently, I’ve noticed a stark contrast in how people are responding to this global pandemic. We’ve seen some pretty remarkable things. People sharing, giving, offering what they can in unique ways and by creative means. Some are using it as an opportunity to practice compassion and as a means to draw closer together in unity. Thinking about others and how they can help.  Then there are others who have been using the information and direction given as a means to judge others, criticize, and to elevate themselves in believing that they’re being more obedient, more righteous, and “better social distancers” than others. 

In the longest human research study Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist, and professor at Harvard Medical School stated, “The surprising finding is that our relationships…have a powerful influence on our health, (in short) good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

As human beings, we are wired for connection. This is difficult while social distancing. But what is guaranteed to make it even harder is adding moral superiority to the mix.

The definition of Moral Superiority is the belief or attitude that one’s position and actions are justified by having higher moral values than others.

This can be somewhat sneaky and if we’re not paying attention it’s easy to fall into this mindset. It can look like, “We’ve been told by authorities that we need to gather in groups of 10 or less. I see my neighbor with 5 cars in his driveway and laughter pouring from his backyard. I bet he has more than 10 people over. His family alone consists of 6! He’s not social distancing like he’s supposed to be and I am therefore I’m doing it right, I’m the better person here”

This has been around long before this virus and the current circumstances we’re in today. It shows up in our church beliefs and how well we’re listening and obeying words and direction given.

We think we’re doing it right and therefore better because they’re then doing it wrong and not as good or as moral as we are or even if we’re the judged party and we feel defensive because we think our actions are valid so we start judging them back only this time we add in our own sense of moral superiority because we’re the more kind and understanding party and they’re not. They’re closed-minded because they don’t have all the information and they’re judging.

It’s so easy to fall into. And without realizing it you’ve given your brain a problem to solve. Remember our brains are always solving problems and when you’re judging others for being at the store or being out and about you’ve told your brain to look for all the ways people aren’t distancing like they should and how you are. You fall into the thinking that you’re better because you’re the rule follower. You’re not going to spread the virus. And so you feel a mix of judgment and moral superiority because they’re not doing it right and you are.

Without really intentionally thinking about it, it becomes somewhat of a competition, like “I win the social distancing award” and instead of creating connection and friendship you’re dividing and competing with those around you. Only there’s really no winner here.

This is not intended to shame or point my finger at you. This is a moment of awareness and observation. Because here’s the thing. Our brains love to judge. It’s not a bad thing. It’s part of our wiring. Judging helps our brains take in information, evaluate it, and then categorize it. It’s our brain’s way of conserving energy. Like a computer code, it wants to create shortcuts and not have to expend so much attention, time, or energy thinking about any one thing. So it starts to create shortcuts

People of 10 or more = bad, they’re not listening, they’re part of the problem

Social distancing = good, they’re listening, they’re part of the solution

Going out = bad, they shouldn’t do that, you’re part of the problem

Staying in = good, you’re helping

Your brain does this so it can free up space and save energy so you can think about other things and process more. Now the problem here is that while judging we’re closing in and limiting our understanding and potential for connection with others. We’re actually doing the very thing that creates disconnection.

We’re pushing the very object we want further away from us.

Judging creates more judging and not only that but it’s usually topped with moral superiority because you feel justified in your actions and your reasons for it and then you elevate yourself because you believe that you’re being “better, more obedient” than others.

But moral superiority is an illusion. It’s a belief that there’s a clear “right” and a clear “wrong”. But right and wrong is subjective and as and of itself a somewhat vague concept. Even with social distancing, it can be subjective. The term social distancing can mean different things to different people. 

My kids heard 6 feet apart so they wanted to still hang out with friends just standing 6 feet apart while we heard, let’s just stay in for a while.

We were told to only go out for necessities which again is subjective. 

The problem here is that it’s being interpreted by individuals that lack the full story and information. It’s impossible to judge correctly because you’re centering your judgments on your own preference, interpretation, and limited knowledge.

We believe that we’re right and that other’s who aren’t doing what we would do or are doing as wrong. 

Several missionaries are coming home or have already come home and I was surprised to read the mixed climate of opinions on the internet. People again interpreted the information given and acted according to their own thoughts and justifications while others were judging them because they disagreed with their different methods and felt that they were doing things wrong.

We have to be careful because these differences in our minds get coded as “immoral” and “wrong” and this is where the real problem lies. We then elevate ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for doing it “right”.

This creates a bar graph of different statuses and levels of who’s better and who’s not. Who’s listening and being obedient and who’s not.

This is division. This is disconnect.

What I want to offer today is another option than just right or wrong, good or bad, obedient or disobedient, or even black or white.

What I want to offer is peace and an invitation to unity and connection.

This is that different doesn’t mean right or Wong, bad or good but that different means different.

There aren’t good or bad choices but rather there are choices that create consequences.

I have a children’s book called, Zen Shorts that I really like and I want to share just one quick snippet with you. It reads, 

“There was once an old farmer whose

horse ran away. Hearing that the

horse was gone, his neighbors came

to visit and commented, “Oh! What

terrible luck you’re having!”

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse came

back and brought with it three

other wild horses. The neighbors

commented, “Oh! How wonderful

this is!”

“Maybe,” the farmer said.

The next day, the farmer’s son tried

to ride one of the wild horses, was

thrown off, and broke his leg. Again

the neighbors came, “Oh! What a

horrible accident!”

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the

army. Seeing the son’s leg was broken,

they passed him by. The neighbors

congratulated the farmer, “Oh! That

worked out so well for you!”

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth, Scholastic Press, 2007.

The concept of “maybe” is option c.  We don’t have to jump into right or wrong, good or bad, who’s better or not. It’s just being open. It’s not making a judgment at all but rather being curious and open to possibilities.

Curiosity cures judgments. 

It extinguishes pride and moral superiority.

It invites connection and unity by leaning into the possibility that maybe we don’t have all the facts.

Stephen Batchelor said, “The greatest threat to compassion is the temptation to succumb to fantasies of moral superiority”

What if what we thought was right, good, being obedient wasn’t right or good for everyone? 

What if that car you see in front of the store was there because they needed food?

What if that person buying toilet paper didn’t stock up but was on their last roll and really needed it?

What if what we thought was the better choice was really just an illusion?

I invite you to try on the maybe concept. It’s that maybe we don’t have all the facts. Maybe we can’t judge because we’re not them. This is when we think what would we do if we were in that situation, right? 

Well, if I were them I wouldn’t do that. But the truth is you don’t know what you would do because you’re not them. You don’t have their thoughts, their experiences, their beliefs, their perspective.

It’s inviting you to lean in. Maybe I wouldn’t do that but I don’t really know because I’m not them.

Maybe them going to the store was exactly what they needed.

Maybe what they’re doing isn’t about me at all.

Maybe their way is different than mine but that doesn’t mean wrong.

We tend to make inaccurate and irrational judgments of people because we just don’t know and when we think we do know and we know better we’re falling prey to moral superiority which stems in pride. 

Think about this as if it were on a scale and in the middle you have neutral. No thoughts or judgments about it just neutral. Then to the left, we have pride, judgments, and moral superiority all the way to negative 10. To the right, you have curiosity, compassion, and humility to positive 10. 

Think of your own thoughts and recent judgments and even though they might feel justifiable to you, where would they fall on this scale?

When we judge someone going to the store, going to the beach, going to someones’ house. Where is that on the scale? Where does that fit?

When we judge others for them judging us and we think, they don’t know what they’re talking about. At least, I’m not like them. Where does that fall?

When we approach the situation from a maybe standpoint where does that fit?

Morally you do have to decide what kind of a person you want to be. We have unique circumstances right now because your behavior and others can affect other people. If I go out I’m at risk for getting the virus which means I could give it to others and people could get hurt.

So knowing this I get to decide who I want to be and how I want to show up. Think about that scale again, where do you fall?

There’s a difference in inviting someone to try on thoughts and encouraging them to believe what the medical professionals have stated vs judging them because they’re not listening.

We can want others to act a certain way without needing them to. 

When I need them to act a certain way because of my beliefs I’m cut off from any and all other potentials. 

When I invite them to and want them to I’m living and being who I want to be while letting them and accepting that they’re human with their own agency. Knowing that I can do what feels best to me, to protect me, to protect my family and all the while I get to feel how I want to feel. I can set boundaries and limits and do what feels best to me without assuming I know what’s best for them because I don’t know.

The Maybe approach doesn’t take sides.

It doesn’t assume to know what’s good or bad, right or wrong.

It’s open to possibility.

It’s an invitation to learn more, to lean in.

It requires a deliberate mind, one that isn’t just about shortcuts and labels.

You start entertaining both sides of the story and even then realizing that there are more than just two sides.

One of the most compassionate thoughts that I love to think is that, “maybe I don’t have all the information to make a judgment”

Maybe it’s possible to just observe what’s happening around you without labeling it and judging it. Maybe it’s possible that people aren’t better than others or more virtuous than others.

What if you just allowed the maybe to be front and center. Maybe is an open door. It invites instead of repels.

The last thing people want to do is to lean into someone who they feel judged them. That repels people and right now especially we want to lean in, we crave connection, the maybe approach gives this to you.

Instead of the quick judgment, they shouldn’t be doing that. They’re doing it wrong and I’m doing it right, Maybe allows for curiosity, for more information, for more compassion and understanding. Maybe allows for more humanity and connection.

Maybe what’s right for you isn’t right for me, but maybe what’s wrong for me isn’t what’s wrong for you.

Think about Nephi and his experience with Laban. That clearly is not right for me but at that time in that circumstance that was right for him.

Think about Joseph and what his brothers did selling him into slavery. It’d be easy to feel morally superior that they’re wrong and I’m right. I would never do that kind of thinking but at the end of it all Joseph admitted that everything that happened was supposed to happen. It was right and necessary for his journey.

There are so many examples of this that can help us see that what is right for others might not be right for me but it doesn’t make it wrong. It just means I don’t have all the information and I don’t need it to embrace the maybe.

Maybe feels better than judging even if that moral superiority feels justifiable and satisfactory in the moment. It will never create the results you want. It only creates more judging and more division.

Maybe creates potential. 

Maybe creates possibility.

Like I said, in the beginning, my purpose today is not to judge you or to say you’re doing it wrong. I don’t know if you are or aren’t. I’m inviting you to observe yourself. To be mindful of your thoughts and what you’re creating.  I’m inviting you to be mindful and aware of where your energy is being spent and if you like that. I’m inviting you to try on the maybe approach and see the unlimited potential it brings to the table including connection.

I’m inviting you to look at your current circumstances and results in your life. If it’s quiet and your feeling disconnected then maybe it’s a good time to lean in and see how you can create that. Hint hint, connection is a feeling which means it starts in your thoughts.

I was part of a group discussion once where it was playful and people were happily reaching out and connecting and then one person made one judgment that I think was intended as a joke but enough to be interpreted otherwise and immediately the connection ceased. People stopped discussing. People wanted to escape and be done. These comments invite others to think thoughts that create insecurity and doubts. They might choose not to be around you or not to speak up out of fear. This results in disconnect.

More than ever we need to lean in, to be deliberate in our thinking so we can show up how we want to be. Instead of feeling the illusion of being morally right and superior maybe it’s time to move toward the other end of the scale, which is to embrace the maybe, the curiosity, more humility and unity.

No one is perfect. Moral superiority is an illusion because good, better, best is subjective. You might think you’re really good in one area but lacking in another while the other party might be really good in that area and lacking in another. We all fall short, we’re all human. We all need to practice the maybe.

Maybe feels better than being superficially certain.

Maybe invites and warms whereas moral superiority disconnects and diminishes.

You always have your agency to choose. Choose what feels best for you. Choose what has you acting in accordance to who you want to be. Choose what is going to create the results you want.

I want to believe the best in people because it feels the best for me. It sends my brain on an errand to find all the evidence it can to prove that this person is amazing which feels amazing, which creates more love for this person, which creates more positive action and service, which results in more connection, more love, more friendship.

You always have a choice.

Choose well.


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