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Morality

Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times

By Jonathan Sacks
16-minute read
Audio available
Morality by Jonathan Sacks

Morality (2020) is a detailed deconstruction of our current social climate and a lucid account of how we got here. Part intellectual history and part manifesto of moral truths, this thoughtful work uncovers the roots of the rifts in contemporary society and points out a path toward a more just future.

  • Lost souls seeking guidance in times of trouble
  • Citizens searching for justice in politics
  • Anyone concerned about the state of modern society

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a best-selling author of more than 30 books including Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence (2015) and The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning (2012). He is the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and has lectured on spirituality and morality at dozens of leading religious institutions around the world. 

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Morality

Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times

By Jonathan Sacks
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Morality by Jonathan Sacks
Synopsis

Morality (2020) is a detailed deconstruction of our current social climate and a lucid account of how we got here. Part intellectual history and part manifesto of moral truths, this thoughtful work uncovers the roots of the rifts in contemporary society and points out a path toward a more just future.

Key idea 1 of 10

Society’s emphasis on individuality leaves us isolated and vulnerable.

Beethoven, Bach, Brahms. All of these men devoted their entire lives to composing symphonies. With their intense dedication and powerful talents, they penned some of the most beautiful orchestral music in history. Yet without the orchestra, we would never have heard it.

The fact is, even a genius can’t bring a symphony to life on his own. It takes the teamwork and coordination of dozens of musicians all working together. Without this community effort, all grand symphonies would be reduced to rather lonely solos.  

The key message here is: Society’s emphasis on individuality leaves us isolated and vulnerable.

For the past few decades, society has become increasingly focused on the individual. This shift is reflected all over our culture, even in our pop music. A study from the University of Kentucky found that since 1980, hit songs have included fewer lyrics about “we” and “us” and more about “me” and “I.”

But that’s just a small example. Our lifestyles have changed, too. These days, people live more solitary lives. They marry later, have fewer children, and join fewer social groups than in the past. In the United States, the percentage of people living alone has doubled in just 50 years. In large cities, nearly half of all people live on their own.

This shift toward individuality has left us lonelier, which can have dire consequences. For one, chronic loneliness has serious health implications. Research has linked feeling alone to higher stress levels and reduced immune system response. One study even found that long-term loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Our obsession with individualism has also boosted the self-help industry. Each year, thousands of books are published that claim we can fix our problems by focusing on ourselves. But this narcissistic impulse only leaves us more lonely and disconnected. 

A better way for us to improve our lives is to act in service to others. You can do this by stepping outside yourself and evaluating your behavior from an outsider's perspective. Rather than basing your actions and decisions around your immediate needs and desires, reflect on how others may experience your actions. 

Such an approach to life values the collective “us” over the individual “I.” This process is sometimes called “unselfing” and is the basis of morality. In the next blinks, we’ll delve deeper into why this process can be so difficult.

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