Is Moral Development Observable?




By Linda Fisher Thornton

Most of us have some idea about human development because we have watched people grow up and pass through stages and milestones in their lives. We have seen babies roll over and sit up, and later walk on their own. We have watched children grow into teenagers and become adults.

Moral development is just as important as physical development, and should be going on at the same time as physical development, but it is not visible in terms of a person’s appearance. Because it is not visible, its important role in human development is sometimes overlooked.

Moral development is dependent on learning, so it is vital that organizations provide an environment that forwards moral learning. There are specific things that organizations can do to encourage moral development in leadership. They include teaching systems thinking and how to seek mutual benefit when making decisions.

Moral development requires learning. It doesn’t just happen.

There are also things parents can do to encourage moral development in children. “Young people need help learning how to succeed in living positive ethical values in a world filled with distractions and negative messages. Our job is to help them center themselves in positive ethical values and get to know themselves as good people.” (Thornton, Helping Young People Become Ethical Leaders, Leading in Context Blog)

To “observe” someone’s level of moral development, look beyond what they say to their behavior and their choices. Notice how well they treat others. Look for how well they seek solutions that benefit all parties, not just themselves. Notice what they value. Notice how consistently they think beyond their own interests and concerns to attend to the concerns of others.  These are the ways that moral development is made visible. 

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