Despite volumes written on morality and ethics, how do we determine what’s right?
Values distilled over time by family, faith, and nation define and denounce wrong, but the effort to banish shadow only allows it to emerge as projection onto others. We decry in ‘them’ what we deny in ourselves. Jung says, “The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality…for to become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects [of oneself]…as present and real.”
We have all faced a moral dilemma at some point in our lives, questioning our own judgment and rectitude. This internal conflict is a result of our shadow self, the parts of ourselves we keep shamefully hidden and refuse to acknowledge. In order to make ethical decisions, we must discover our shadow and integrate it into our decision-making process. This is called shadow work, a psychological practice that requires facing our fears, insecurities, and doubts. We can genuinely understand our moral philosophy only when we engage our inner conflicts.
Sages have long debated the nature of ethical decision-making. Some argue that morality is objective and universal, while others argue that it is subjective and relative to each individual. The ancient Greek philosophers reasoned it is crucial to consider the impact of the decision on others, both in the immediate situation and in the broader community. This involves empathizing with those affected by the decision and seeking to minimize harm while maximizing societal benefits. Jung believed that religious codes provide an initial framework for the developing child and facilitate cultural adaptation. As our ego individuates from instilled norms and submits to the Self, our allegiance shifts, and our attitudes become increasingly unique.
Making ethical decisions is not always easy. We often face conflicting duties and obligations, and we must weigh the consequences of our actions. In these moments, it is essential to approach the situation with humility and consciousness. We must recognize that our decisions may have unintended repercussions and be willing to take responsibility for our actions. Careful deliberation requires us to embrace uncertainty and trust our intuition.
The definition of morality is not fixed but rather constantly evolving. It is influenced by cultural norms, religious doctrine, personal beliefs, and individual experiences. As such, it is vital to approach ethics with tolerance, curiosity, and courage. We must be prepared to challenge our own beliefs and biases and be open to new perspectives. Only then can we make truly ethical decisions that are grounded in empathy, insight, and compassion.
Jung’s ethical stance is rooted in recognition of our disowned qualities and the influence of the emerging Self. Morality may be relative but requires thoughtfulness, humility, and a willingness to explore ambiguity. As we navigate the complexities of decision-making, we must approach the world with an open mind and a readiness to learn. Only then can we awaken to the world and make truly ethical decisions that honor our larger Self.
~ Joseph R. Lee
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“I am at the entrance of a hospital in the U.S. There are two women, immigrants and cleaning ladies there, fixing the entrance with white cement. I look at how they are working with this kind of white clay on the floor. One woman is older than the other and more experienced. I enter the building. I have an appointment with a well-known psychologist. I go to the second floor and see him downstairs very worried, looking for his parrot. I see the parrot on the roof. It is beautiful, light blue. Its beak calls my attention. I shout at him, telling him it is there, I found it. Then I enter the psychologist’s office very quickly. I sit down on a chair. I close my eyes. After a couple of minutes he tells me, okay, why are you here? I’m surprised. I had not noticed he was there. I apologize. He tells me to do some relaxing exercise with my arms. I want to talk, but he interrupts me. He says that a psychiatric patient must be brought to the room for some special healing. Two nurses bring this woman lying in a bed. I’m afraid–she looks dangerous. They are going to put her in another room, but the doctor says she must be placed behind me. I’m scared. I think she might kill me. She’s crazy.”
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