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Sun City Learners question their moral compass

Posted 12/8/23

When Professor Robert O’Donnell asked the question, “Do you know your moral compass?” about 30 Lifelong Learners decided to think about that question more and they attended a …

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Sun City Learners question their moral compass


When Professor Robert O’Donnell asked the question, “Do you know your moral compass?” about 30 Lifelong Learners decided to think about that question more and they attended a three-hour Sun City Lifelong Learning class that helped to clarify the question. 

Some said they were curious, just intrigued by the question, and others said the topic was an interesting one and was part of taking stock of one’s life.  ome thought their moral compasses seemed to be changing with age, and one learner asked, “Am I following my moral compass or am I allowing society to interfere?” Another learner affirmed that inquiry and said the question is highly relevant “given current events.”

O’Donnell affirmed all those ponderables and said we all have a moral compass, and although it may exist in our subconscious minds, it is still there and it may be different for all of us. In order to bring it to a conscious level, we must realize that it is composed of “a collection of values” we have adopted for ourselves. He asked participants to share where they were born, where they lived during their formative years and what locations may have impacted them in terms of values. Though we had been born in more than 20 states, the Philippines and England, we agreed it was true that if we told someone we had been born in New Jersey, they might make assumptions about us which would be different than if we said we had been born in California!  Our cultures and subcultures influence individual moral compasses.

But events in our formative years might even be more important; of course, it would depend on each person, whether the event was traumatic or memorable in some other way. O’Donnell said he was attending the University of California at Berkeley during the free speech movement and how that may have shaped his own moral compass. Our learned behaviors are unique to each of us, as our legal signatures would vary, so would learned behaviors that we can automatically access. We all knew much of our operable moral compass may have been taught to us by our parents, O’Donnell said he believed “Thou shalt not steal” but if his son was dying and he could not access the needed medication for life, O’Donnell would break into a pharmacy and steal the life affirming medication. The subconscious mind can argue with the conscious mind and our values can be in conflict.

“All of your values and interests exist in priority,” O’Donnell said, and “some things are more important” and focusing on just one of your interests could be a problem. It’s difficult, but just focusing on one of your interests may be limiting. He invited the class to think about allocating 10,000 points and awarding points to each of the many and varied interests which would help us see that putting our values in priority could help us make decisions which would be moral for each of us. He said, “Your values are right for you: live them!” He emphasized that stating your values in a positive way is useful: if you don’t like noise, your value is serenity—that is what you are striving for.  Learner Therese Fitzgerald agreed. She said that the best new learning from class participation was “how to uncover an awareness of my own values and how they drive my life.” And Tammy Ohm said she gained an awareness of how to define her values and then to put them in order of importance, knowing that they can change daily.

Robert O’Donnell, one of the instructors in the Lifelong Learning Club, is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Boston Law School. He says his first career was 20 years as a lawyer and his second career was in mediation, both as practice and in teaching the skills.  He was an adjunct visiting professor at Pepperdine University School of Law for 17 years, and he has taught over 10,000 people skills in collaborative negotiations in 25 states and nine countries (including the Soviet Union, Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, Mauritania, Cameroon, Burundi, Nicaragua and China.).

The Lifelong Learning Club is a chartered Recreation Centers of Sun City club and is open to current members. Registration for the spring semester is scheduled for 10 a.m.-noon Jan. 18, at the Fairway Recreation Center.