on moral reasoning

Recently, I had a post featured on BlogHer (this is the link for the BlogHer article), a very interesting experience that garnered many responses, some good and some bad, at least from whatever your vantage point may be. The post had the misfortune of being renamed in (what I think) is a most inflammatory manner in order to drum up controversy and snag more readers – hoo boy, there were certain people who missed the point of respecting other’s views and that I don’t believe fierce religious dogma is for children because they could only focus on the fact that the children were not going to other’s churches. There was a small contingent who wasn’t quite sure how we, as non-religious parents, could hope to teach our children tolerance and morals (my favourite from the Facebook feed was the “I’m so tolerant I’m calling you closed minded and will name-call”).

Miss N has reached an age where we have started talking about the “why” of what we do, we are making connections between the rules and why they exist. Every morning we walk together to the bus and it is a time just for us, mother and daughter to talk without little brother distractions or the call of kittens. One morning this week she was admiring the newly formed buds on the trees, gently poking at their edges and pointing out the flowers she recognized (there are many – her green thumb would make my grandfather proud).

Miss N: It’s a lovely morning, Mommy. I like that tree the best. (And she pointed at this gorgeous tree that I think is a Hot Pink Crabapple tree.)

Me: It is, honey. I think that’s my favourite, too. Why do you suppose they grow, the trees?

Miss N: Well, I know the builders make the roads and houses and stuff. The trees and plants grow because we need them for oxygen.

Me: But what if we weren’t here? Why should they grow? A super long time ago there weren’t people living here in Canada but there were trees and all kinds of plants and animals.

Miss N: Hm. I know that one day this baby tree, (she pointed at a young Maple Tree), will grow up to be really big and that’s what it’s supposed to do if we let it.

Me: So, it’s part of what it is? To grow and live?

Miss N: I think so, but I don’t know.

Me: Think about it, honey. Have an awesome day and have fun at school.

With that, we left it. Her schoolbus had arrived and she hurried away, oversized book bag bumping against the back of her legs and ponytail swinging. The idea of  intrinsic value is a pretty weighty subject for a six year old but at its heart is discovering that the world does not necessarily exist just for our use and benefit. The world can exist with our without us but because we are, in so many ways, straddling the border between being part of nature but also outside of it, I believe it is important that we do not take nature for granted or our position so close to it.

Later that night I was telling Mr about the conversation I had with Miss N and he smiled. That afternoon he was outside with Miss N and Boy when Boy found a slug he was intent on squishing, for no other reason than it may be fun to squish something smaller than him. It was Miss N who stopped him with a simple, “Why?”.

“Because I want to,” he said.

“But why? It’s part of nature. Everything is part of nature. Just like us, would you want to be squished?”

Through Twitter I’ve been having some very interesting conversations with other non-religious parents about how we teach our children when we do not have a religious framework to establish a moral structure. The common refrain has been “the golden rule”, that the most basic way for everyone to get along in the world is to think about how we want to be treated and extend that to others. The golden rule transcends many world cultures and beliefs because the notion of positive reciprocity is one that we can all identify with because it puts each one of us in the position of another. This is the basic essence of not just morality but also respect, that we can learn respect from something as inconsequential as a slug in the garden.

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