How do we help our girls develop a healthy moral code?
Embedded in an ethic of thriving at BRAVE we believe in the importance of
Moral Courage — doing what is right even when there is a personal cost and
Moral Care — a morality built upon reciprocal relationships vs. rights and rules.
Carol Gilligan’s Ethic of Care envisioned 3 stages of moral development:
- Stage 1: Focus is on the self.
- Stage 2: Focus is on others.
- Stage 3: Focus on interdependence and a morality that is contextualized.
Her research at the time suggested that many women never moved beyond stage 2.
Building on her great work at BRAVE we envision three mindsets.
Mindset 1: Focus is on what I need and want, and what is right for me.
This is in some ways the simplest but most selfish place to live. No moral courage or care is needed. There may be reasons why people get trapped here though. When we don’t believe anyone else will look out for us we can believe that narrative that we are on our own. This is a survival narrative, not a thriving narrative, and it comes at a cost to us, and others.
Mindset 2: Focus is on what you need and want, and what is right for you.
This is the most socially acceptable stage and it understandable that many girls and women get stuck here. If mindset one is the place of selfishness, mindset two is the place of people pleasing — an artificial and costly substitute for mature morality that is reinforced by what we, as well meaning adults, reward and communicate. It also comes at a cost, robbing girls of the ability to articulate their true needs and, at it’s worst, cheapens concern for others to a pathway for validation.
Mindset 3: Focus is on what we need and want, and what is right for all of us.
This is the least common, and most powerful stage. This is the place of morality rooted in relationship, of seeking to understand another’s perspective while honoring our own, of using our voice for what matters and making space for others to do the same. This is the place of both compassion and boundaries, the place that celebrates the gifts and responsibilities of community, and treats both with great care.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society [or community] can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” We would add, “and trains its youth how to create environments in which everyone can thrive.”
How can we assist young women on their journey towards moral development?
- Acknowledge that the journey takes time and that occasional selfish behaviour does not mean someone is selfish. Call out the best in your girls.
- Do not reinforce people pleasing behavious. Do we really want to raise girls who are selfless? Or girls who respect both themselves and others? Teach and model what true humility, compassion and boundary setting look like. Explain the difference between loyalty and wise choices, between being liked and being respected.
- Model stage 3 mindsets and inspire them to aspire to moral courage, relational reciprocity, and community thriving. Get involved in something that doesn’t directly benefit you and accept help when you need it. Build your own village, and help your girls build theirs.
 Adapted from the work of Carol Gilligan, Eva Skoe and others