Where Are Concern, Empathy And Moral Thinking?

Moral Development:

"The process by which individuals internalize standards of right and wrong conduct." This is also known as ethics. Ethics involves having Integrity.

1. A woman adopts a 7 year old orphan from Russia but puts him on an airplane back to Moscow because of his emotional problems. She sends him unescorted and complains that the adoption agency failed to inform her about his problems.

2. A fifteen year old female Irish immigrant commits suicide after months of being bullied and threatened by male and female classmates in her new school.

It seems as though there is a lack of moral thinking in this anonymous world of our's today.

1. By now, most people are aware of the tragedy that occurred when a Tennessee woman adopted a 7 year old male child from Russia and then put him on an airplane back to Moscow claiming he is psychopathic and violent.

Adoption of an older child always brings with certain risks connected to the fact that these children have spent too many years in institutions. Attachment or bonding is critically important to the healthy growth and development of a child. Therefore, attachment can be a problem for those youngsters who were raised in foster care of adoptive institutions. The many other children in these institutions and the lack of staff interfere with the entire process of bonding. Renee Spitz did a now famous study of orphaned children in post World War II Europe. His results demonstrated the fact that many of these children were not able to thrive because of the absence of any parenting from birth and onward. Some literally stopped eating ans starved to death.

In this case, not only had this boy suffered terrible losses and rejection at the hands of his biological mother, a prostitute, but impersonal care in an institution for foster children and, finally, suffers an added rejection at the hands of an adoptive mother who makes it clear she does not want him. To repeat, this child is only 7 years old.

Whether people have children via natural childbirth or adoption, can anyone predict the nature,personality and temperament of the new member of the family? When problems arise, is it not the responsibility of parents to get medical and psychiatric help for their youngsters?

2. A young and attractive teenager moves from Ireland with her family and is faced with nothing but hostility and rejection of her classmates in her new school in a foreign land. Where was the compassion and understanding of both teachers and students in welcoming someone from a different culture?

Teachers claim they knew nothing about the bullying and the students, facing trial because they are accused of driving the young woman to suicide, claim that they are innocent. In other words, no one is guilty of at the very least, callous indifference in this tragedy? An American High School and its students are not supposed to welcome, embrace and help assimilate those who are different?

As a mental health worker what worries me is the fact that these and other stories reflect what appears to be a lack of concern about others. Recent research tells us that even the smallest babies have an inborn sense of altruism and that as early as two years old, they demonstrate a sense of caring about others. However, in these and other cases, something went wrong in the development of a higher moral conscience in people.

Lawrence Kohlberg developed a theory of moral development that parallelled that of Piaget in terms of cognitive development. A brief explanation of Kohlberg can be found at:

He stated that the highest stage of moral thinking is Post Conventional because a person at this level makes decisions based on deeply held values rather than personal gain, avoidance of punishment or absently following the law or what others in the crowd are doing. There is great concern about the health, rights and well being of others as well as a deep consideration of the consequences for decisions.

According to Kohlberg, moral development is an ongoing process throughout life and people shift from one level of thinking to the next, depending on a given situation.

What are your views about cases like those discussed in this article? Are you an ethical thinker? Have we stopped encouraging the development of ethical ways of thinking?

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD