‘Real altruists are made not born,’ says renowned educational psychologist at Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed’s Ramadan majlis
Abu Dhabi: An internationally renowned educator on Wednesday warned of what she called “a global character crisis”, which she said is defined by a steep descent of moral reasoning, empathy, and civic responsibility, and a sharp rise in cheating, materialism, incivility, narcissism, hate crimes, bigotry and cyber bullying.
“The future of our children and societies in the whole was at stake as a result of changing behaviours, which focus on gaining personal fame and fortune at the expense of traditional ethos, including serving the common good,” Dr Michele Borba, an educational psychologist, told the audience at the majlis of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
The lecture, titled ‘Why Moral Education is Essential Now More than Ever?’, was attended by Shaikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.
Dr Borba, whose proposal ‘Ending School Violence and Bullying’ was signed into California law in 2002, said real altruists are made not born. Citing a study conducted by social psychologist Samuel Oliner, who interviewed 1,500 rescuers involved in saving thousands of lives in Nazi-occupied Europe at grave personal peril, Dr Borba said Oliner discovered that the way these life-saving heroes were brought up had a whole lot to do with their humane and moral behaviour. His study showed that these men and women were raised by parents who expected them to be kind, who themselves served as role models of kindness while also insisting that their children care about others.
She praised the UAE’s efforts to launch a moral education initiative at schools, as well as the initiative of the Year of Reading in 2016, which she said contributes to raising empathy levels among children.
Dr Borba, who started out as a schoolteacher, said that effective moral education should consist of three elements that should be implemented wholesomely to end the character crisis of the age and produce caring and morally-oriented citizens. These elements are: Moral Knowing, Moral Feeling, and Moral Action.
Dr Borba explained ‘Moral Knowing’ as the cognitive part of moral education, noting that as wealth and privilege increase, empathy and moral identity shrinks, so children depend less on people and more on things.
“It doesn’t matter whether we are a home or school or a nation, we need mantras,” she said, providing examples including, ‘We always do the right thing’ or what her first-grade teacher used to say when she spotted bad behaviour: ‘Was that helpful or hurtful?’
“We need to teach our children to care about one another,” she said, as she discussed the need for ‘Moral Feeling’. She said the crisis in this area is felt through the fact that empathy has dipped by 40 per cent in teens in just 30 years and narcissism risen by 58 per cent. Self-absorption kills empathy, she said, which means parents and the society should teach their children to think in terms of “We” not “Me.” This can be done by familiarising children with the lives and deeds of moral role-models such as Mahatma Gandhi, she said.
Dr Borba said that the ultimate goal for parents and educators should be getting to the behavioural component of the remedy, which is ‘Moral Action’. “The real seeds of morality is not how you talk, it’s what you do and how you walk,” she said. “Becoming morally excellent is acquired by practice and hard work. But children practice everything but moral skills. To become good people, children must exercise their moral muscles and pro-social behaviours.”
Volunteering is one way to teach this moral skill, she pointed out.
Dr Borba is the best-selling author of 24 books, including ‘UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All About Me World’. She’s a frequent guest on some of America’s top TV shows, including NBC’s TODAY show, Dr Phil, the Doctors and Dr Oz, where she talks about a variety of social and psychological issues such as parenting, bullying and character development.
The Ramadan series of lectures is part of Shaikh Mohammad’s efforts to spread the spirit of knowledge and learning in the UAE, by inviting renowned scholars, experts, officials and entrepreneurs to speak at his majlis at Al Bateen Palace in Abu Dhabi. The lectures are attended by senior government officials, diplomats, business leaders and others.