As I was pouring his tea, I casually mentioned my troubling few days. "Dharma, I don't understand all that's going on in the world. It seems to me that most of the politicians in the news are saying one thing but are doing something else quite different. How can that be? Don't these officials get elected based, in large part, on their beliefs and values? If so, then why don't their constituents get more concerned when they do something that's so contrary to what they say?" "Irwin, my boy, you make a very good point. But many humans act that way. And a few frogs too, of course. But it seems for humans that there is some sense that the world operates on two different levels: 'Do as I say, not as I do.' But I can you, Tadpole, that's not how it really is. A frog's beliefs don't make him a better frog - his behavior does. And, I do believe, Son, that this is also true for humans."
As always, I wanted to know more about how to be a better frog and Dharma was happy to oblige. To make this easier on you, I will give you the gist of his lesson today and will swap out human for frog. Okay, here we go. According to my wise teacher, there is a growing gap between humans moral values and their actions but that it is possible to deduce that difference by increasing one's propensity for moral action.
Humans can have a darker side to their character, This is evidence of this almost daily. There are lots of good humans. We all see evidence of this, too, but sometimes the good and heartwarming news stories get buried in the back pages or are simply not told at all. Why is it then that some humans are good and some not so much? This is the question I posed for Dharma. His response was a bit shocking. He said that every human has good and bad in them; it's not a question of either/or. Sometimes human act morally and sometimes they don't; it's often based on who they are and what is going on around them. Humans aren't apt to help a "damsel in distress" if they are with a stranger who doesn't help first. And, I found out, that 30% of the human population on any given day will lie if they think they can get away with it. There are many studies out there that show humans are capable of doing some pretty awful things to one another if given the opportunity or the command from an authority figure. But this blog is about how to become better. So let's jump into that.
Having increased empathy has been shown to greatly influence the impact humans have on helping someone in need. Studies reveal that having empathy with a total stranger, listening to their story and feeling some of what they are experiencing, will increase the chances (76%) that they will offer to help. Those that don't listen to the story and empathize with the stranger had only a 37% chance of offering help. As for the damsel in distress scenario, the odds of help jumped to 70%, if the person was alone vs being with someone who didn't offer help. That's huge! This clearly shows that our situation and those we are with dramatically influence our action. Dharma offered a strategy to reduce our own "character gap", that is the difference from who we should be and how we tend to be...with can be a mixed bag of good and not.
We know that empathy plays a huge part in our behavior but there are others things we can do, too. One of those is to emulate a moral role model. We can't just admire them, though. They must be able to motivate and inspire us to emulate them. What's nice is that research shows that these moral role models can be real or fictional, from history or present-day. The only requirement is that we act like them. For me, my moral role model is Dharma Frog. In my mind, there is no one better, wiser, or kinder than he.
The next item on the strategy list is to use moral reminders. The idea here is to begin each day with your personal moral reminder. For some, it might be The Ten Commandments. For others, it might be a Code of Conduct from their school or club. Again, it doesn't matter, as long as you stop to think about it when a moral action is required of you; cheating on a test, taking credit for work you didn't do, or lying to cover up something you know is wrong. I like to use my mothers ten rules on How to Behave in the Swamp. Moral reminders keep us on track. The more we use them the sooner they become second-nature to us. The last item on Dharma's strategy list is to learn about yourself. he tells me that means being open and honest with yourself. "Learning more about the feelings, emotions, and desires that could be obstacles to virtue can also help reduce the character gap. Once we gain this deeper self-awareness, we can work on trying to curb and correct their influence." An example of this would be eliminating your embarrassment of getting involved in someone else's situation. In fact, Dharma explained, it can fear of helping out when we are in a group of unresponsive people. Fear that can be related to taunting, bullying, or engaging in an action that is different from what the group is doing. One study shows that in the presence of an emergency and one unresponsive stranger, only 25% of the study participants jumped in to help. But another group who attended a lecture on the psychology of groups and helping came across that very same emergency situation 42.5% of the participants jumped in to offer aid.
As Dharma prepared to leave, he summed up this week's lesson by saying that the character gap is real and for many of us, both frogs and human, that gap can be large. The good news is, that the gap isn't insurmountable. If we all follow Dharma's simple strategy we can strengthen our moral character "and rise to the occasion when moral action is required,"
This old world needs for all us to be on our best behavior at all times. I hope this rather lengthy blog can help make us all who want and need to be. And not just when it suits us, but all the time.