I believe the greatest moral challenge facing the world today is how the international community understands and defines “morality.” Morality and ethics is at the heart of our conduct as human beings. It lurks behind every decision big or small—whether to share a seat on the bus or whether to even take the bus. How we as human beings define morality is how we choose to live it.
The modern world has never been more interconnected than it is in our present state. Technological advancements, economic globalization, and new age communication systems bring each and every individual on this planet closer together for better or worse. Thus, the responsibility we have towards each other is perhaps greater than at any other point in our human history and therefore, morality never more imperative.
There are many different ways to define morality, and depending on the culture or the condition, one might come up with different understandings. Let’s take for example poverty as a condition. Poverty in itself changes the value system and forces us to challenge our beliefs. When there is not enough money to put food on the table, is it immoral to take your girls out of school so that you can use that money to feed them instead? When starvation and death is a near certainty, is it immoral to sell your child to a brothel so that she can be guaranteed shelter and food? How about if you purchase a bride from a poor country because you know that her family could use the money—is that immoral? Should morality be defined differently within a system of poverty? Who should decide this? Perhaps to begin answering such questions we must first appeal to a condition or emotion with which we can all sympathize, namely, compassion.
If we approach morality first with compassion, maybe our understanding of it can transcend different systems and contexts. Perhaps, if each individual human being subjects himself to a moral code with compassion, we can live in a world in which every parent cares for their child, every neighbor respects the other, and every state does what is best for its citizens.
Questions of morality and its role in international relations are necessarily complex. However, if we infuse both a sense of compassion and a self-interested realization that we are all interconnected—that all of our actions affect one another, it may enable us to come to a definition of morality that allows nations to interact with one another for the greater good of every human being. Perhaps if we all work together, one day we can create a world in which poverty is mitigated and a parent’s choice between food and education for his child no longer presents a dichotomy.