Friday, October 17, 2008

Values Within Us


James Daniel

- Why do we do all the ethical things in our Workplace?
- Why is it that we do not steal from our companies?
- Why is it that we do not give bribes or even accept bribes?
- Why do we work hard and go the extra mile in our workplace?

How do we answer these questions? Many of us will agree that stealing, giving bribes etc are wrong but we may give different reasons as to why we believe these are wrong.

There is a famous American psychologist by the name of Lawrence Kohlberg who did a study on developing moral judgment. His studies were done mainly on the reason behind a moral action. He was interested in the structure in a moral judgment and not the content of the moral judgment. The content is "it is wrong to steal" where else the structure is "why it is wrong to steal". He found out that there are 6 stages of moral development in a person.

In the first stage, people do a certain moral thing because of Fear. If you ask people in this stage why they don't give bribes, they will say because they are afraid that they will be punished if they are caught. Everything good they do is not because they believe in the good itself, but rather because they are afraid of the consequences of doing bad. In a country like Malaysia where we do not see the government taking strong action against corruption, people become less fearful. As such, when there is no fear, the sense of doing right disappears.

In the second stage, people have good moral values because of the Reward they expect from their good deeds. I have known Christians who gives tithes and offerings just because they are expecting God to bless them back financially 100x more. This then becomes the main reason. Similarly, we can have workers in our workplace who works hard just to impress the bosses. They will make sure that their bosses see how hardworking they are and how committed they are just so that they can be promoted and probably get higher salary in their company.

In the third stage, a person will observe certain moral behaviors so that that person will be Accepted by some respected authority or group, be it a church or organization that the person is involved in. Just imagine if you attend a Christian group and if you tell them that you practice bribery in your company to secure contracts. I don't think you will be accepted in the long run. As such, you may decide not to give bribes anymore due to the peer pressure from such group. The problem is, when you move on to another group that believes it is OK to give bribes, then you change according to the belief of that new group. As such, this people's value changes depending on which group they are in.

In the fourth stage, a person's moral judgment is based on the Law of the society or some form of structure that is holding the society together. It is not based on fear, but rather on the belief that they need to respect and obey the law. This in itself is good because it keeps society in order. However, when this social order is taken away, the people's moral values collapses. In many countries where racial riots happen, neighbors who have been living peacefully for a long time suddenly starts to kill each other. Ever wondered why this happens?

In the last 2 stages, a person having good moral value does so in order to protect the rights and welfare of other people, rather than himself. Concern is given even for the minority. A person in this stage will say that it is wrong to steal "because it will violate someone's right of ownership and it is unjust to advance our own benefit at the expense of others". They do not steal not because of fear, not because they want to be rewarded, not because they feel it is the "right thing a Christian should do" or not even because of the law. Their conviction of not stealing is not based on their surrounding or the people they mix it. Rather, this highest moral value has been internalized in that person.

In Matthew 5 (Sermon on the Mount), we see Jesus telling the crowd 6 times "You have heard it said……. But I tell you……" In verse 21 Jesus said "You have heard it said that you shall not kill" and in verse 22 Jesus said "But I tell you, even if you get angry with your brother without a cause, you will be in danger of judgment"

In verse 27 and 28 Jesus said "you have heard it said , thou shall not commit adultery but I tell you that even if you look at a women lustfully, you have committed adultery with her in your heart"

He again used this same style of dialogue another 4 times in verses 31/32, 33/34, 38/39 and 43/44.

What was Jesus trying to teach over here? What the people were taught was correct, don't murder, don't commit adultery etc. But the people were obeying the law just as it was. No one knows the real reason why these people are obeying the law. They might be following the law just because they had to. Jesus comes and he does a wonder. He brings this same law to greater heights and he gives them new meanings and new dimensions. He wants them to have the law internalized within them. The people do not commit adultery because the law forbids them, but since there are no laws that forbid them from looking lustfully at women, they find nothing wrong with it. If we look deeper into this, we can ask the question "why is it wrong to commit adultery" and when we find the answer, is it not the same as looking at a women lustfully?

Similarly, as Christians, we need to have the "laws" internalized within us. Issues like ethics, integrity, high moral standard should be rooted deep down in us. We need to have these not because of fear, or reward, or acceptance, or because of the law itself, but rather because we need to see things, people and reason in the way Jesus would see them. And we need to get this like what the Sunday school song say "deep deep down in our heart".

James Daniel is currently working with Schlumberger as a Directional Driller Manager, drilling oil wells for oil companies. Married to Esther Wong, both of them attend Mar Thoma Syrian church in KL. James is also the current President of GCF. He can be contacted at

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