By Ariel Herm, co-chair Professional Development and Networking Committee
I want to use this blog post as an opportunity to talk about an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast, Revisionist History. The podcast is terrific and I highly recommend that those who have a commute to their internship this summer tune in weekly. Each week, Malcolm takes a look at something in history that has been overlooked or misunderstand. It’s fantastic.
The first episode of Revisionist History focused on moral licensing which I found to be an especially relevant topic given our political climate and ongoing racial tension in the U.S. It is titled: The Lady Vanishes.
Here is quick overview on moral licensing. It is an individual’s idea that a past good deed can free them of the need to do more good deeds, and instead justifies behavior that is immoral, unethical, and antithetical to the good deed. So for example, in 2008, a surprising number of individuals who voted for President Obama did so to prove that they weren’t racist. Survey data following the election showed that a significant group of individuals who voted for Obama had a tendency to express racist ideas (Merritt, Effron &Monin, 2010). So after voting for Obama, that was enough, they didn’t need to continue to display moral behavior, they had “done their bit.”
This concept really makes you think more about how we as individuals behave on an everyday basis. Do we jump to a cause and dive headfirst, and then when it becomes too difficult for us to continue, back off and say that’s enough? Do we behave this way towards people who are less like us on a regular basis? How often do we give a homeless person money or food, but give nothing to the next homeless person on the street we pass? Do we move between bouts of moral licensing throughout our day? Is this our way of making ethical decisions? I could go on and on, but where I really want to end up is on the subject of women in elected positions.
The question I am thinking about now as we approach election season is: if we elect a woman president, will we see moral licensing? Yes, I think we already see it now. Sexism and misogyny are coming through pretty strong in this election and unfortunately, I think that after this election, we will see more moral licensing in the years to come. After all, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his podcast, an overwhelming number of countries that elected a woman as their leader, have done so once, and never again. The question is, what will cause the needle to move and move permanently?
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