What makes us feel good about ourselves? For most, this feeling comes when we act in harmony with our moral ideals. Conversely, when what we do fails to match our ideals, we suffer a variety of consequences. Some consequences are apparent because the outer world confronts us whether we acknowledge our misdeed or not. Other consequences are less easy to see. For example, we may “get away with it” yet become haunted by an immoral action; we may experience a kind of 3:00 a.m. reckoning that disturbs much more than our sleep.
What, though, is the source of our moral ideals? If morality is simply an evolutionary trait that allows all of humanity—separate from all other living things—to survive, that would seem to imply that immoral people would not thrive, and yet, often, they apparently do just fine. So why bother trying to be good? Understanding this question is critical to our development as human beings. We need to understand our own personal sense of morality and why we feel so personally burdened by our mistakes.
Let’s see what Dr. Steiner has to say:
Concerning their sense of morality, people nowadays relate to the world in a very peculiar way, which is not always consciously observed but nevertheless causes much of the uncertainty and instability in their life. On the one hand, we have our intellectual knowledge, which enables us to understand natural phenomena, to conceive to a certain extent of the universe as a whole, and to develop a concept of the nature of the human being. This concept, though, is a very limited one… In addition to our capacity for knowing, that is, to everything that is controlled by our logic, another element of our being makes itself felt, namely the one we draw our ethical duty and ethical love from, in short, our motivation for acting morally…
These ideals are so important to us that we feel worthy only when we live up to them. In other words, we measure our worth by whether we live in harmony with our ethical ideas…
We simply have to face the fact that our modern consciousness cannot bridge the chasm between our capacities for knowing, which have brought us knowledge of nature, and the capacities that guide us as ethical being…
We are not aware of everything that goes on in the depths of our soul; much remains unconscious. Still, what rumbles around in our unconscious makes itself felt in our everyday life in disharmony and in psychological and even physical illnesses.
Excerpt from: Social Issues: Meditative Thinking & the Threefold Social Order, Lecture Two, Zurich 17/03/1920 by Rudolf Steiner
The belief that honesty, charity, humility, etc. are moral qualities, comes not from our logical mind; the reality of these qualities resides within our soul. We need to find ways to decipher the unconscious rumblings of our soul in order to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be ideally. Therapies of various sorts can help us deal with the discomfort of our feelings, but these therapies can be only superficial since that discomfort is our soul’s response to the gap itself.
One more perspective from Dr. Steiner:
The higher worlds convey to us the impulses and powers for living, and in this way, we get a basis for morality. Schopenhauer once said: “To preach morality is easy, to find a foundation for it, difficult.” But without a true foundation we can never make morality our own. People often say: Why worry about the knowledge of higher worlds so long we are good men and have moral principles? In the long run no mere preaching of morality will be effective; but a knowledge of the truth gives morality a sound basis. To preach morality is like preaching to a stove about its duty to provide warmth and heat while not giving it any coal. If we want a firm foundation for morality, we must supply the soul with fuel in the form of knowledge of the truth.
Excerpt from: At the Gates of Spiritual Science, Lecture Two: The Three Worlds, Stuttgart 23/08/06
The reluctance to acknowledge morality’s role in our lives is one aspect of our lazy thinking today. Morality is a fact of our being, and that fact is an obvious refutation to the argument for a life considered whole within the confines of our senses alone. Perhaps we don’t need to suffer blindly or muddle around with nebulous ideas about why we hold ourselves to moral standards at all. Wisdom—knowledge of the truth of higher worlds—leads us to answers about the source of morality that lies within each of us. Truth will, ultimately, set us free.
Jordan Peterson and Rudolf Steiner: What is the Greatest Idea?