The path of a moral rebel
What does it take to create a moral rebel?
It helps to have seen moral courage in action. Many of the civil rights activists who participated in marches and sit-ins in the southern United States in the 1960s had parents who displayed moral courage and civic engagement, as did many of the Germans who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Watching people you look up to show moral courage can inspire you to do the same.
A budding moral rebel also needs to feel empathy, imagining the world from someone else’s perspective. Spending time with and really getting to know people from different backgrounds helps. White high school students who had more contact with people from different ethnic groups—in their neighbourhood, at school, and on sports teams—have higher levels of empathy and see people from different minority groups in more positive ways.
These same students are more likely to report taking some action if a classmate uses an ethnic slur, such as by directly challenging that person, supporting the victim, or telling a teacher. People who are more empathic are also more likely to defend someone who is being bullied.
Finally, moral rebels need particular skills and practice using them. One study found that teenagers who held their own in an argument with their mother, using reasoned arguments instead of whining, pressure, or insults, were the most resistant to peer pressure to use drugs or drink alcohol later on. Why? People who have practised making effective arguments and sticking with them under pressure are better able to use these same techniques with their peers.
Moral rebels clearly have particular characteristics that enable them to stand up for what’s right. But what about the rest of us? Are we doomed to be the silent bystanders who meekly stand by and don’t dare call out bad behavior?
Fortunately, no. It is possible to develop the ability to stand up to social pressure. In other words, anyone can learn to be a moral rebel.
We can all take steps to develop our own inner moral rebel.
Written by: Catherine A. Sanderson This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley." Republished with permission.