Moral Choices in Everyday Life

by Rebecca Pascoe

Moral choices are not just the big decisions which are made on a large scale. We make moral choices everyday. The decision whether to keep or return the money found in a lost wallet or to tell a lie to protect someone’s feelings, or even something as simple as to give up your seat on the bus so somebody else can sit down. They are something unavoidable, so why is it that deciding on right and wrong in a real life situation seems to be more trivial than moral issues which seem to dominate many our conversations and debates, such as the legalization of abortion and changing the minimum wage. Surely the ethics that is happening right before us on a daily basis should be more important to us?

Everyday ethics doesn’t take the centre stage simply because the issues we face daily have become habit. Some people don’t even need to think twice before giving up their seat on the bus, whereas others just don’t want to. Perhaps one could say that the outcomes of the moral choices made on a daily basis are already decided by the personality of the person themselves, as surely a kinder more selfless person would be more willing to give up their seat. However, as well as this, it could be said that there are many other factors that influence the moral choices that people make.

The first is where we stand in society. Teenagers, for example, could be said to struggle with moral decisions more in everyday life. This is maybe because they have less experience in the world or perhaps because of the pressures and problems that all teenagers are sure to face at some point in their lives. During our teen years, it is a time when many are struggling with their sense of personal identity and fitting in with their peers, which is why their moral compasses may be slightly warped at this time. Take the example or peer pressure. A teenager who would usually have no interest in drugs, or bullying, may go against their own personal values in order to be accepted by their peers. This doesn’t mean that they are intrinsically an unethical person, but they may act in an unethical way because of the conflict between the need for acceptance and obeying their own values. Because of this, moral choices for teenagers and adolescents could be seen as more difficult than it is for adults who don’t face these kinds of pressures in their everyday lives.

For some, religion is the main factor that influences how we behave morally. The code of conduct for the specific religion then becomes the code of conduct for its followers, meaning that when faced with everyday moral choices, the religious believer would do what their religion teaches. So for Christianity, which says ‘love thy neighbour’, a Christian should be expected to give up their seat to someone more in need than them. However, a problem arises here when the beliefs of a religion don’t benefit others, as we have seen recently in the case of extremist groups who believe they are following the morality of their religion by hurting others. Although they believe they are doing what is right, the majority of people, including those from their religions who are not extremists, would disagree, and their actions would go against the morality of most people.

It could also be argued that the way we are brought up affects how we behave in everyday moral situations, for example if you mother was a thief, and you regularly saw her stealing in front of you while growing up, you may be more accustomed to take the money from a lost wallet. Despite this, it could go the other way, and you could be determined to be the opposite of your mother in adulthood, and thus decide not to steal the money and to return it.

In most cases, how we act will depend on the person themselves, and there is no one influence that will make us act in a certain way. When faced with everyday ethics, it is a choice which is usually made quickly or on the spot. It is not something which is debated or discussed, but made by the personal alone in that moment. Because of this, the outcome of moral choices can change day to day, depending on for example, the mood of the person. It has been proven that someone in a bad mood will be more likely to take the money from a lost wallet than someone in a good mood. We can take from this that everyday ethics is just as important as large scale ethics, and although it is much more subjective and fast-paced, we should always try and make the decision that is the most beneficial to all, despite our own circumstances.