By Sanjana Gupta
Just like ships are guided by a magnetic compass, humans are guided by a moral compass. Also known as your conscience or your ethical principles, your moral compass is an innate set of values that guides your behavior and decisions.
Your moral compass essentially helps you distinguish between what’s right and wrong, says Kristin Wilson, LPC, CCTP, Chief Experience Officer at Newport Healthcare.
Your moral compass plays a significant role in your life. It can guide the way you work, the way you respond when you’re asked a question, the way you react to a situation, or simply the way you go about your day-to-day life.
For example: Do you leave your campground clean or littered with trash? Do you lend your neighbor your footstool or claim you don’t have one? Do you blame a mistake you made at work on your colleague or take responsibility for it?
This article explores the signs and benefits of a moral compass, factors that influence your moral compass, and strategies to help you develop a strong moral compass.
What Makes Up Your Moral Compass?
These are some factors that can influence your moral compass, according to Wilson:
- Family values
- Parental styles
- Life experiences
- Role models
- Religious beliefs
- Cultural norms
- Social influences
- Political climate
- Economic environment
- Social media
Signs of a Strong Moral Compass
These are some of the signs of a strong moral compass, according to Wilson:
- Honesty: Being truthful and not lying to people or deceiving them for your own gain.
- Respect: Treating others with respect, even if they have a different background or belief system from yours.
- Humility: Not being arrogant and avoiding boasting.
- Reliability: Keeping your word and being dependable to those who count on you.
- Accountability: Taking responsibility for your actions and mistakes.
- Loyalty: Being faithful and supportive of the people in your life.
- Kindness: Being kind to others and helping out as much as possible.
- Thoughtfulness: Being considerate toward other people.
- Selflessness: Being quick to help and putting others’ needs before your own.
- Trustworthiness: Being honest and not stealing, cheating on, or manipulating others.
- Compassion: Being empathetic toward the plight of others.
Benefits of Having a Strong Moral Compass
These are some of the benefits of having a strong moral compass:
- Stronger identity: Having a strong moral compass can lead to a strong sense of integrity, self-worth, and self-confidence, says Wilson.
- Increased happiness: Acting in accordance with your values can help you feel happy and at peace with yourself. A 2014 study notes that having a clear conscience helps promote inner peace. The authors of the study notes that this even applies during stressful situations, because you know you’ve done your best.
- Better relationships: People with a strong moral compass are able to foster better relationships with others because they value others’ needs and view themselves as part of a greater good, says Wilson.
- Greater success: Research shows that ethical behavior is linked to better performance and greater success.
What Does It Mean to Lack a Moral Compass?
Without a moral compass, you may simply act per your own convenience, without taking into consideration what’s better for others or society as a whole.
People who lack moral compasses can be difficult to deal with because they often make decisions that will negatively impact those around them, says Wilson.
Research also shows that psychopathic people, who often have antisocial or criminal tendencies, tend to lack a moral compass.
Tips to Strengthen Your Moral Compass
These are some strategies that can help you strengthen your moral compass.
Review Your Beliefs
Your moral compass is comprised of your beliefs, principles, and values. It can be helpful to reflect upon them and evaluate them from time to time, to ensure your moral compass stays strong.
You can do this by reflecting on day-to-day situations in your life or current events in the news. Ask yourself how you feel about the situation and why. If you like, you can even discuss your thoughts with others, to see how they feel about them.
Seek Out Diverse Perspectives
Often, we rely only on what we know to guide us. However, our perspective can sometimes be limiting.
It’s important to broaden your horizons by considering different cultures, religions, social practices, and economic backgrounds. The best way to do this is by talking to lots of different people. You can also read books and articles, and watch diverse content.
Developing a more diverse, inclusive, and holistic worldview can help you be more compassionate and strengthen your moral compass.
While we always consider how our actions will affect us, it’s equally important to consider how they affect others.
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective can help you understand how your actions might affect them. This can help you be more empathetic toward them and guide your behavior toward them.
Act Upon Your Intentions
While your moral compass is a guiding light, it’s important to follow through and act upon your intentions.
For instance, even though you might be tempted to turn in an assignment late and make an excuse to your manager, it’s important to get it done on time if you value punctuality, reliability, and trustworthiness.
The satisfaction you get by acting upon your values is motivating and rewarding in itself and will help strengthen your moral compass.
Correct Your Mistakes
Your moral compass evolves over time, as you encounter new information and experiences. If you find something you once believed was mistaken or misguided, don’t be afraid to correct yourself. Admit your mistakes, apologize to people you’ve hurt, and learn from the situation.
Even if you were mistaken before, correcting yourself can help you strengthen your moral compass and feel at peace with yourself. Being stubborn and refusing to accept that you might have been wrong can be as harmful to your mental well-being as it is to others’.
Originally published on VeryWellMind.com.