It’s easy to judge someone for thinking they are ‘better’ than us in just about every aspect. But, looking in the mirror and saying the same thing can be a little more eye-opening. The reality is that most of us tend to think we are better than others, whether we say it out loud or not. We’re smarter, we work harder, we have more to offer, etc.
The biggest area of self-superiority that we tend to hold against others, though, is that of our morals. The illusion of moral superiority affects more people than you might expect (and it probably affects you, too!). A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that moral superiority is unique in just how prevalent of a positive illusion it is for so many people.
Why Do We Feel Our Morals are Better?
Through this particular study, researchers quickly found that most people are eager to give themselves high scores on the more positive areas of life. We all want to think we have better-than-average intelligence, for example. It’s not hard to put that on a piece of paper when you’re doing a study.
But, why was moral superiority so high for so many people? There is no concrete answer – at least, not yet. The researchers’ theories suggest that we want to downplay the morals of others and boost up our own as a survival mechanism. We live in a world where we are so convinced that others are untrustworthy, that we give ourselves moral superiority over almost everyone else; even people close to us.
The next step is to research what aspects of these inflated beliefs about morals really mean the most to people. Morals can mean different things to different participants, and one person may be focusing on something like virtue, while another may be thinking about honesty.
Some of our superiority thoughts aren’t so irrational. They give us an ego boost, make us feel better about our overall wellbeing, and for the most part are generally harmless. Even downplaying the strong traits of others isn’t always a bad thing as long as it doesn’t start to affect relationships.
But, moral superiority seems to be an unexplained phenomenon of sorts when it comes to how irrational it really is. Without more research to officially back up the reasoning behind it, we’re left guessing as to why we’re so concerned with feeling and looking morally better on paper than our neighbors.
Are There Dangers to Irrational Moral Superiority?
The idea of thinking we’re somehow more righteous than others might seem harmless. But, if these ideas grow and gain momentum in all of us, it could lead to potential problems for the future. Conflict is bound to arise when we all think we have higher moral standards than those around us.
There are two sides to every debate, and if both side thinks they are more righteous than the other, it can make any argument turn even more heated. This could lead to a snowball effect for many different conflicts, and could even lead to more violent behavior in the future.
Carolyn Ehrlich LCSW, CGP specializes in Relationship Counseling NYC. I increase your self- awareness and help you gain more insight into your inner-life. We’ll work together so you can get more out of every day and meet any challenge life throws at you.