It is a general human tendency to discover certain principles by which to govern one’s actions in dealing with other people. Over the course of their lives, people infer those general principles, either consciously or unconsciously, based on the outcomes of particular actions that they take. It is undoubtedly the case that people are greatly influenced by their culture in establishing a set of governing values.
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However, I believe that one has to be critical towards the conventional values of one’s culture and try to go beyond the cultural norms in search of deals that can have deeper foundations. Over the course of my life, I have concluded that it is beneficial to consider three central notions as a frame of reference in determining the morality of each particular action. In my opinion, those values are empathy, equality, and justice.
I have always seen the ability to take the other’s perspective or empathize with him or her as the foundation of moral behavior. If we were not able to see others as beings similar to ourselves, we would not have any reason to consider their interests on a par with our own. It would be perfectly natural to use the other as a means to our own ends if we were not able to think about his or her needs as well. Therefore, I always try to view every situation in which I am involved from the perspective of all the other participants in order to grasp the accurate picture of that situation. This maneuver assures that everyone’s needs are addressed to the extent that it is possible. It also ensures that no one is hurt emotionally or in any other way.
Related to the principle of empathy is the notion of equality, which is extremely important as an addition to the ability to empathize. As it has been said, people have an impulse towards empathizing with others; however, the mere ability to feel the other’s pain and consider his or her desires is not enough if every person’s wants, needs, and emotions are not treated equally. For instance, many people were moved by the pain of the slaves they held, and yet, they simply did not see the slaves’ pain as equal to their own. The principle of equality compels us to have each individual as similar to everyone else and avoid making any sort of discrimination based on race, religion, nation, or class.
Finally, the third principle that I always consider when judging the moral character of my actions or the actions of others is justice. Given the two principles I have outlined above, justice can sometimes be a concept that is often in conflict with empathy and equality. For instance, when helping to resolve personal disputes between two people, if one empathizes with both sides and holds the interests of both sides as equal, no resolution can be reached.
The impulse towards justice means that a person who consciously disregards the interests and needs of others automatically reduces the need for consideration of their own interests in the eyes of others. I would claim, however, that one cannot wholly disregard empathy in order to serve justice because doing so can easily result in vengefulness, which I view as irrational and dehumanizing.
There are many examples where adherence to the values outlined above helped me to make a moral decision. For instance, empathy for those who suffer, or are in a position not favored by society, incited me to join and volunteer at several humanitarian organizations. I spent an entire summer volunteering at the Red Cross, where we prepared food for the homeless and helped in organizing many charities. I think that everyone should be involved in humanitarian activities to the extent that they can because helping others is not just our choice but a moral obligation.