The year was 1497. It was known as the Age of Discovery as explorers from Spain, England and other European countries were fervently seeking a New World. Among them was a Portuguese navigator Dom Vasco da Gama. With his crew, his intuition and a compass, he roved the high seas in search of a rumoured land that existed far beyond his own. He set sail in inhospitable weather and travelled far and wide, with his eyes on the horizon. And when all hope was lost, his compass kept him on the right path, as a good guide would. Without it, he would have been lost in the abyss of Mediterranean and Arabia and would never have found India.
Today, whether it’s a sailor, a pilot or an individual walking the streets, everyone can find their direction with ease. But, when it comes to the path of morality, we are just as lost as ever. We have a tonne of research on morality that could give people a map to find their true north, but not everyone can comprehend the difference between right and wrong. So, let’s take a step back and understand morality at the fundamental level.
In Latin, the word for “right” is “rectus” which means “straight”. It comes to the English language through the Old English word ‘riht’ which means “just, fair, proper, or good.” On the other hand, the word ‘wrong’, means “crooked” in Latin. Since the 12th century, the word has been used to highlight a bad, immoral, or unjust behaviour. The first step to find one’s true north begins with understanding this difference between right and wrong.
In simple words, morality is a value system that directs us towards goodness and kindness. Helping an old person cross the road, giving shelter to a homeless animal, volunteering to provide aid to people in need are all moral behaviours, expected of humans, in general. But unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal society. In a world mired in bigotry and ignorance, the line separating good and bad is never a straight one. What is right for one is wrong for another. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to ethics and virtues. So how can we follow the path of morality, when there is no map for it?
Simple. By using a compass. Not the one Vasco had, but the moral compass that always point towards ‘true north’. Calibrated with the elements of compassion, fairness and just, moral compass is a ‘shadow of virtue’ embedded in each one of us. For some it is a state of mind, for others it is the plinth to their spirituality. Either way, people use this moral instrument to do what is right, even when doing right is not easy.