Essay on Morality: How not to Loose it in Difficult Times


When in desperate times, people adapt and think differently.  Francisco J. Ayala, in his article “The difference of being human: Morality,” states that morality comes in three parts: Being able to predict the consequences of one’s actions, being able to judge whether something is good or bad, and the ability to take different actions in a situation.  It is thought that in the case of life or death, a person will lose all their morals and focus on only their survival.  In reality, when in a state of great suffering, people still have their morality and have the ability to realize — but not take action on — what is “right” and what is “wrong.”

Humans by default have a sense of morality but depending on their situation and culture, their morals and values can vary.  Different environments will require different sets of values and in turn different actions that could seem right or wrong.  Naturalist Charles Darwin, most well known for his theory of natural selection and evolution, in his book The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex speaks about how any animal would “acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed” as humans (Darwin 68-69). 

When animals, like humans, gain high levels of intelligence, they will gain morality as Darwin states that morals are a consequence of becoming smarter as a species.  In his article, Francisco J. Ayala also expounds on Darwin’s beliefs that morals are a “biologically determined human universal but with culturally evolved differences” as a “response to the environmental and historical conditions”.  If a person was in “survival mode,” they would not lose their morals but will have a change in morals and values to adapt and increase their chances of survival.

While humans are able to tell what is right and wrong based on their situation, they will typically not take action due to their fear and hesitation.  This has been seen in Elie Wiesel’s personal accounts in his memoir Night of many cases where fear outweighed his judgment to stop something wrong from happening.  When an officer was beating his father in Auschwitz, Elie “had watched it all happen without moving” instead stepping in (Wiesel 54).  When in an extremely stressful situation, most people will not be able to react and just stayed silent.  Elie did not take action because he was afraid, not because he had lost his morality. 

A more modern example of this is explained in Sean Illing’s article “Why humans are cruel”  where he interviews psychologist Paul Bloom.  During their conversation, Bloom describes an experiment where people were asked what their reactions would be if they were interviewed and asked offensive questions and the people responded with “I would out.”  Soon a fake interview was done with these people and when the interviewer did these bad things “all of the women were just silent.”  Bloom explains that “we don’t behave in stressful situations the way we think we would or the way we would like to.”  In most cases, when people are hit with something they see as bad or wrong, they will not take action. This would occur in both “survival mode” and normal life due to there being the difference between reality and the expectations of an ideal situation.

Many claim that when people are in a state of great suffering they become animalistic, only caring for their own survival; however, this is not true.  Throughout Elie Wiesel’s experiences throughout the Holocaust, even in “survival mode” he did not always do things that would higher his chances of survival.  When Elie and his father were on a train to Buchenwald, his father had fallen asleep and the SS ordered all dead to be thrown off the train.  When people had tried to do this to his father, Elie recalls “I threw myself on his body. He was cold. I slapped him. I rubbed his hands, crying” (99). 

Had Elie not stopped his father from getting thrown off the train, Elie could have gotten his father’s clothes and used to them to increase his chance of survival.  His father showed this same kindness during this time of desperation when he prevented Elie from dying and telling him “Don't let yourself be overcome by sleep, Eliezer. It's dangerous to fall asleep in snow. One falls asleep forever. Come, my son, come…Get up” (88).  When either Elie or his father could have left the other to increase their likelihood of survival, neither did.  This goes against the thought that people when people are in “survival mode” they will lose their morality and in turn care for solely themselves.

When a person is in “survival mode” their actions and thoughts are not solely concentrated on their own survival. Even in very stressful times, people still have their morality and can see tell the difference between a good or bad decision although whether they act upon their feelings is slim.  It is not about losing morality when in “survival mode” but how morality changes based on experiences and although people have the ability to tell between what is right or wrong when put into a stressful situation, people will not be able to act out their ideal situation.  If people had lost their morality during times of great suffering, Elie Wiesel and many of the survivors of the Holocaust would not have survived or get to tell their tale.

 

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