Today we’re going to discuss building your own moral system. I think it is imperative that every man sit down and hammer out what morality means to him.
In order to be a great man, you have to begin defining what greatness means to you. Is it being a good father? Is it being a thought leader? Is it being a powerful CEO? The head of a charity?
You have to work out for yourself what greatness you are trying to achieve. A part of achieving that greatness will be an unflinching adherence to a code. But if you don’t define your code, other men will define it for you.
You will end up in their image, instead of the image you crafted. No man can be a leader, can be transformed into a leader, without a thorough understanding of his own beliefs. You cannot be great while simultaneously lacking great beliefs.
Why You Should Build Your Own Morality
Let’s take a close look at a few of the reasons I’ve come up with for defining and building your own moral code.
You may want to add your own reasons to this list, or maybe you disagree with some of these. That’s fine! The point is to come up with a consistent set of standards, a code by which you can live.
My goal with this post isn’t to define morality for you, but to get you thinking so that you can create and define a moral guideline for yourself.
Increases Your Strength of Character
It is said that character is who you are when no one is looking. Nothing is going to help bring that unseen man into congruence with the man that the public sees faster than a unifying code for your life.
If you want to increase your strength of character, eliminate your cognitive dissonance, and become the person you truly wish to be, then you need to define that person.
You cannot define who you are until you define what you believe, and your beliefs will rest on your concepts of “right” and “wrong”. You cannot develop character unless you first have a foundation to build from – and that foundation is your morality.
Gives You an Independent Metric
Have you ever felt judged by other people? Felt like you were inferior or like they were somehow determining your worth?
There are all kinds of internet tough guys that say, “Fuck them! Do you!” – but these are generally worthless sentiments. I know because pop stars say the same sorts of things when they post “Only God Can Judge Me” quotes to their Instagram stories.
The truth is we care about the judgements and estimations of our peers. It’s built into who we are as people and we simply cannot escape that.
What you can do, however, is give yourself a standard independent of the judgements of men by which you can measure yourself.
I went out to lunch with a coworker once and on the way to my car a beggar came up and asked me for money. He was disheveled, dirty, holding a sign. I brushed by him like he didn’t exist continued to my car.
My coworker thought I was despicable for ignoring the man, and tried to make me feel bad for it. I took a moment to apply my actions against my moral code.
I determined that my actions were completely moral, that I owed the beggar nothing, and that I did nothing wrong.
You may disagree. I don’t care. For me, the matter is settled. And that’s the point: I have an independent measure to compare my actions against.
Gives You Confidence in Your Choices
When you have a solid moral code that you’ve worked out you can be confident that you are making good choices.
Making good choices is paramount to living a good life. Having a strong moral code that you’ve developed will enable you to know for sure that you are making good choices.
You will know that your choices line up with your beliefs, and line up with the image of the man you wish to be. And there’s a lot of comfort in that.
Gives You Accountability.
When Moses came down from the mountain with the ten commandments, he didn’t come down with regulations as much as he came down with accountability set to stone.
When you have a firm guiding code, you really have accountability. It is good for man to be able to look at something solid and say, “This is the standard.”
If you can know what the standard is, you can know whether or not you meet it. In some cases, such as your daily behavior, you can modify your behavior to fit the standard.
Gives You Support In Difficult Situations
Having a written out standard and code for your morality can give you support in difficult times. You will be able to see, in black and white, the right path.
If you develop a simple guide for proper action, then you can have something to lean on in difficult situations. You simply have to consistently apply your moral code.
Once you do, you will be able to see, as plain as day, the right choices to make in any difficult situation. You simply have to apply your code, and then do the right thing.
Now that we know why we should develop our own morality, we have to ask ourselves a few fairly dense and complex questions. I would like to share these questions with you, as well as my answers.
You may find yourself asking different questions, or coming up with different answers to my questions. That’s fine. Your life experience is going to lead you in a different way on this than mine.
At the end of the day, the goal isn’t to become me, the goal is to become an independent man who knows, at his core, who he is and what he believes.
What is Moral?
What a dense and difficult question. This was the very first question I came to when I set myself about creating my own moral code.
This is the type of question that philosophers go around and around on for ages and never get anywhere worthwhile (perhaps because they’re going in circles).
I suppose for me I decided that morality is doing the right thing.
What is Immoral?
This, naturally, leads me to conclude that immorality is doing the wrong thing.
Pretty simple on the conclusion front, so far. But the goal here is to work ourselves in deeper. To be methodical and work our way through these problems.
You’ll have a hard time determining what you really believe if you just grab a heavy rock and jump in the deep end.
What is Right & Wrong?
So I’ve determined that morality is doing what is right, and immorality is doing what is wrong. Now I have to determine what right and wrong mean to me.
I suppose I could look at the law, or look at the Bible. I could try and determine which actions, and which motivations constitute “right and wrong”. But this is a lot of abstract thinking, rule making, and remembering.
These kinds of sources were too large, encompassing, and clumsy for me to be able to make something functioning from.
Any time you look at someone attempting to use something as old and comprehensive as the law to create their morality, you see them end up in a very magnificent cage that they’ve built for themselves.
If you don’t believe me, look at the Catholics who can’t be forgiven without a ritual. Look at the Mormons who can’t drink coffee or tea. Look at the Jews whose system of laws is so complex that a man can’t even spit on Saturday without going to hell (seriously, look it up).
I needed something smaller for determining right and wrong. I needed something nimble that could be applied quickly and easily in a tough situation. Something I could easily remember.
I determined that the easiest approach to determining right and wrong was to look outside myself. I defined the amorphous “doing the right thing” as “doing right by…“.
What Makes a Moral System Effective?
We know why we need a moral system. We know what our moral system is. Now we need to know how it will work.
In order to know how a moral system works, you have to know what makes a moral system effective. You can’t build a car if you don’t understand engines.
Black & White
Step one in designing an effective moral system is to have clear lines. Black and white. If you don’t have clear distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable behavior then your morals own’t benefit you.
We generally don’t need a moral system to guide us through the easy choices. Should I murder this beggar or give him $5? Easy choice.
Easy To Remember
Building on the last point, a moral system needs to be something you can easily remember. My moral system – as we’ll discuss in a moment – is one sentence and three bullet points.
I can run my mind over my entire moral code in about a half a second and arrive at an appropriate choice. It’s very simple for me to remember and be able to find my moral “north”.
Simple To Apply
My moral system is also very simple to apply. I can very quickly go through a situation and see which is the moral choice.
What good is developing a moral system for yourself if you build a machine so complex you can’t use it? No good at all, my friend. We should develop a system that can be swiftly and deftly deployed.
Can Withstand Agony
All of these are so important, but this one should have some added emphasis. Your moral system cannot degrade or decay under pressure. If you are committed to creating and using a moral system, it will face pressure.
You must design and build something that can withstand constant agony. Tough choices are everywhere, and men make hard calls. Your beliefs needs to hold up.
Finally, I believe that a moral system must be designed in a way that it can apply to any choice, or any question. Sometimes it might be a bit overkill – and that’s okay! As long as you understand that some things are neither moral nor immoral.
Then again, if you think of morality as impact, then perhaps there is nothing morally neutral.
Either way: Your moral system – whether it delivers 0 or 1, or if it can deliver neutral results – must be able to be applied to any situation.
Universal application is paramount.
Okay. I think we’ve covered enough of the bases here that we can move on to actual application. Let’s build out a moral system for ourselves!
I’m going to start by sharing my moral compass with you so you can see what I came up with, and then we’ll talk about how I got there.
Morality To Me Is…
Doing The Right Thing By My:
Defining What’s Important To You
In order to develop this moral system I had to first decide what was important to me.
Family is important to me. Work is important to me, but what I do isn’t as important. Being a decent human being is important, but only in the eyes of those who matter to me.
If you don’t matter to me, I don’t really care if I matter to you. If you do matter to me, I want to be the best version of myself for you.
Defining Who Is Important To You
So what’s important to me are people. Now I had to determine which people, specifically.
Well, being as I took a vow before Almighty God binding myself eternally to my wife, I’d say she tops the list.
Next beyond that is probably my blood. When you’re bound to someone by blood, you should honor that. They’re your first tribe and should always be there when you need them. If I weren’t married, blood would come first.
I chose the word “blood” over the word “family” here in order to add a degree of specificity I felt was needed. I have a friend with whom I’ve sworn a blood pact, and I have cousins that I’ve only met in passing.
Those cousins do not take priority over that friend. I share more blood with him than I do with them.
Then I have friends in last place. The people with whom I choose to associate and that choose to associate with me. These people are replaceable and transient, often moving in and out of our lives.
They shouldn’t be in a priority place on the list, but they should be considered. So they go last.
Why I Use Hierarchy
I also want to take a moment to discuss the need to prioritize the list and use a hierarchy. I gave everyone equal weight when I first made this list. It became very apparent that there would be times when one group’s interests would conflict with another.
In those situations I needed to be able to quickly choose whose interests came first to me. The easiest way to do this is a hierarchy.
With a hierarchy I can quickly cascade choices down the list, and move on with my day. “Does this negatively impact my wife? My blood? My friends?” If the answer is no down the line, the decision is moral.
Likewise, I can move up the list: Does this benefit my friends? Neutral. My blood? No. My wife? Yes. Then the decision is moral.
A hierarchy provides a simple and convenient conflict resolution system.
Removing Personal Interest
You may also notice that I am conspicuously absent from my own list. This is on purpose. I left myself off of the list because I am a shitty person.
You should do the same because you are also a shitty person. We are all shitty. Humans are shit. It is a naturally ingrained facet of our existence.
If I were on the list, I would be tempted to put myself at the top, even if I were at the bottom. I realize that my selfishness would know no bounds, so I eliminated the temptation entirely.
Testing Your Morality
Once you’ve decided on and developed a moral system, you need to test it. You may find that there are places where it fails, places where it can be improved, or places where it is perfect.
In order to test your morality you’re going to put it through some theoretical tests, and then some road tests. You can’t know if it’s a good fit if you don’t take some time to live by it!
The first few tests you want to do are “basic strain” tests. Choices where you need to make a morally correct decision, but that aren’t necessarily complex, life and death, choices.
For example: Do you give the beggar $5?
Run your moral system through a few of these and see what you answers are left with you. Go revisit old life decisions and situations where you recall making a choice and apply your moral system.
See if you end up with a better choice than you originally made, or if it delivered the same choice faster.
Next, go through some complex strain tests. See if you can break your morality with paradoxes and inconsistencies.
The first complex choice I put my own system through was, “Is it acceptable to steal from work to enrich a friend?” The answer my system delivered was, “No.”
Work organizations, coworkers, and the like aren’t on my hierarchy. The impact to them doesn’t matter to me. Stealing, then, isn’t wrong because it negatively impacts my employer.
Stealing to benefit and enrich a friend, then, would even appear moral.
However, stealing conflicts out once we step up the hierarchy. If I steal and get caught, I would lose my job and face prosecution. This would be to the extreme detriment of my wife. Stealing from work, therefore, is wrong.
I mentioned this earlier, but put your system through tough choices you’ve had to make in your life. See what kind of answers you come up with. Maybe you’ll come up with better answers, maybe the same, maybe worse.
The point is experimentation! See what works.
An example for me is a brother of mine who is an alcoholic. He showed up at my door at 7 PM one day. He was fresh off a bender, had been kicked out of his apartment, fired from his job (for not showing up for days), and was dead broke without a penny.
Do I let him stay at my house?
He’s my blood. And blood’s needs matter in my moral system. The answer would seem to be a yes. But I know that my brother will drink all of the alcohol in my house, literally in a single night. I also know that my brother is a violent drunk.
He will unnecessarily seek out and start conflict when drunk. He is also a womanizer in the worst sense of the word. I fear not only for my safety, but my wife’s. And my wife is priority one.
My Answer: Do not let him stay.
My wife’s need for security outweighs my brother’s need to be saved from the consequences of his choices.
This was not my choice at the time. After discussing it with my wife I decided let him stay one night on the condition that he not drink any of my alcohol, and he was out of my house by 7am the next day, not to return. I threatened him, literally on pain of death, to adhere to these conditions, which he did. I have since had the opportunity to make this choice with him several times over, and no longer allow him to stay. Too much of a risk.
If your system can pass all of these tests then you should give it a good road test! Live it out and see what you have. See what kind of choices you make when your system is taken “live” and you have to actually use it!
Daily application is the ultimate test and will result in some great fine tuning. Daily application didn’t result in the hierarchy on my list (complex strain tests did), but it affirmed that I had made the right choice.
Since developing my system of morality I have had the chance to make a great many choices. I’ve considered a few tweaks, like adding God to the list, but have ultimately decided to leave things as they are.
I’ve also encountered some very hard situations that have had my wondering if my moral system was failing. I realize, looking back on these situations with the wisdom of hindsight, that my system was performing exactly as I had intended it to.
It has given me support in very hard times, given my something to lean on and trust.
This is probably the longest post I’ve ever written on any topic, but I think it is very important that every man do this.
I want to make leaders out of men, but men can’t be leaders unless they have a strong foundation. You need to understand morality, and you need a moral code to live by.
If you don’t have that, no one will ever trust or follow you.
Until next time,
Roast me in the comments, bro!
Do me a favor and leave a comment with your thoughts. I’d love to have a much larger discussion on this topic.