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by David N Johnson

July 13, 2023

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Today, I want to invite you to journey with me through the murky waters of morality. A topic as vast as the ocean, yet, often confined within the realm of binaries – right or wrong, black or white.

It’s comfortable, isn’t it? To sit in the warm embrace of certainty. To believe that our actions or those of others can be neatly classified into good or bad. This binary morality, as enticing as it is, sadly misses the broad spectrum of human behavior and experiences. But as they say, the truth often resides in the gray.

Think about the last time you had to make a tough decision. Was it straightforward? Or were there a myriad of considerations? Each as pressing and significant as the last, jostling for your attention?

As humans, we are complex. We’re multidimensional beings. Just like our decisions, our morality, too, exists on a spectrum. If we reduce it to mere binaries, we run the risk of oversimplification, fostering dogmatism and intolerance. Instead, what if we embraced the spectrum?

Recognizing the Complexity

The first step towards this nuanced morality is to acknowledge complexity. Embrace the idea that we can’t box people’s actions into right and wrong. Yes, some actions are universally harmful, but many more exist in the gray area, influenced by a complex interplay of context, intent, and consequence.

For instance, is it wrong to steal? Most would instinctively say yes. But what if it’s a parent stealing food for their starving child? The situation gets complicated, doesn’t it?

This realization can feel unsettling initially. But trust me, it’s a gateway to a deeper understanding of our and others’ behaviors, leading to empathy and acceptance.

When we begin to see the gray shades, we can better understand the motivations and influences behind people’s actions. Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and to understand their feelings and experiences. By practicing empathy, we can cultivate a more nuanced view of morality. This allows for understanding rather than condemnation.

Empower Yourself with Spectrum Morality

Here’s a personal challenge for you: The next time you find yourself categorizing someone’s action as right or wrong, pause. Try to see the situation from their perspective. Dive into the factors that could have influenced their decision. The result might surprise you.

Remember, our quest is not to justify harmful actions but to promote understanding and empathy, fostering open dialogue instead of divisive debates. Embracing a spectrum view of morality can make us more accepting, compassionate, and above all, human.

Binary morality offers simplicity, but it also carries the danger of oversimplification. A spectrum morality, on the other hand, acknowledges the complexity of human behavior. It promotes understanding, empathy, and personal growth.

It’s not easy, but it’s worthwhile. The world is not black and white. And neither is our morality. So, let’s learn to navigate this spectrum together. To challenge ourselves, to grow, to empathize and, ultimately, to be more understanding and compassionate humans.

Decoding the Gradient of Goodness: Understanding the Five-Point Spectrum of Morality

The beauty of discussing morality is the fluid nature of its spectrum. It isn’t as concrete or quantifiable as a color spectrum with distinct wavelengths. Instead, it’s an abstract concept that varies significantly depending on cultural, social, personal, and historical contexts.

However, for the sake of understanding and practical application, let’s imagine a symbolic five-point spectrum. Remember, this is a generalization, and the reality of human morality is far more nuanced and intricate. Here’s a possible breakdown:

1. Harmful: Actions that cause intentional, unjustifiable harm to others. These actions are typically motivated by malice, selfishness, or a complete disregard for the well-being of others.

2. Self-centered: Actions that are not necessarily malicious but prioritize personal gain or comfort at the expense of others. They often stem from a lack of empathy or consideration for other people’s needs or feelings.

3. Neutral: Actions that neither harm nor benefit others. They exist within the realm of personal choice and independence and are morally indifferent. Think of everyday actions like choosing what to wear or what to eat.

4. Beneficial: Actions that contribute positively to others but may not require significant sacrifice or effort. They may include acts of common courtesy or kindness, such as holding a door open for someone or offering a compliment.

5. Selfless: Actions that involve significant personal sacrifice or effort for the well-being of others. These include acts of altruism and selflessness, where the person acts with the intention of benefiting others, often without any expectation of reciprocation.

Is five too many or too few? That’s subjective. The point here isn’t to create rigid categories, but to emphasize the notion that morality isn’t binary. Even within these five categories, there’s a range of behaviors and actions that could fit, further highlighting the complexity of moral behavior. It’s a broad and fluid spectrum that serves as a guide rather than a definitive rulebook.

Ultimately, the purpose of envisioning morality as a spectrum is to encourage introspection, empathy, and a broader understanding of human behavior. It’s a tool for us to assess our actions and their potential impacts, helping us navigate our moral decisions more consciously and thoughtfully.


Starting today, I challenge you to actively recognize the spectrum of morality in your daily life. It’s a path that is as rewarding as it is challenging.

But remember, every journey begins with a single step. Your first step? The next time you’re faced with a moral decision, don’t just think in terms of right or wrong. Consider the spectrum. Where does your action land? Could you choose a higher point?

Take this journey one decision at a time. Share your experiences and insights with us. We’re all in this together, navigating the complexity of human morality, learning, and growing every day.

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David N Johnson

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David N Johnson

  • I love the article, David.
    After discovering that it was far too wildly swinging between self-centered and beneficial but sorely lacking in selflessness, I have accepted the responsibility to completely rearrange what I thought was my' confident' moral compass.
    I've found myself leaning on higher wisdom – divine wisdom – to move out of that pattern and more into selflessness to experience the uniqueness of life that is not entirely bent on my self-serving wants and desires.
    It's challenging to find a way out of one's own egotism to serve a higher good that benefits others, but whatever the cost has been thus far, it is more than worth the effort.
    Indeed you could have added more, but this simplified 'five' leaves plenty of room for someone to think about all the gradients that exist from one end of the morality spectrum to the other.
    Much appreciated.

    • David N Johnson says:

      I started thinking too hard on these five and then pulled back. There was just no way I could put the whole spectrum together anyway. So, five had to do!

      The “collective good” has been the collective theme over my past few posts. It gives an indicator of the frame of mind I’ve been in.

      As always, thank you for the comment, T!

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