I’ve recently been confronted with some moral dilemmas here in Fez that have made me evaluate my personal values – which ones do I firmly believe no matter the context and which ones can be flexible according to the culture or situation? For example, honesty is a more ‘flexible’ value. Back in college, I read Bok’s Lying, a book which asks - when it is morally acceptable to lie or omit the truth? It lists examples of lies to protect feelings, hopes, and lives. At first thought, we say lying is wrong, but on second thought, sometimes its not…
Without giving too much background (these are long, complicated tales probably not appropriate here), I have been forced to pass judgments on situations involving lying, stealing, cheating on tests, and child abuse. Each time I had to step back and judge the situation as I would in the American context and then the Moroccan context: American values that hold individual rights highest, against Moroccan values that hold family and community highest. Is lying wrong if it’s to protect your family member? Is cheating wrong if a family member asks you to do it for them? Is upholding a value more important than helping a relative who would do anything for you?
Another Fulbright student was explaining to me that trust systems in individualistic societies like America can different from ones in community-oriented places like Morocco. In the states, we have a medium-level of trust for many people. For the most part, we assume that other people (even strangers) will not do anything that would hurt anyone else, like lying, stealing, or cheating. However, in Morocco people hold very high trust levels for close family and friends and very low trust levels for everyone outside this circle. With a different system of trust, values shift and priorities change.
To illustrate this theory, I look at Moroccan queuing. Queuing in Morocco is seldom; instead people form a mass and push their way to the front. When I first got to Morocco, I thought this method was silly and childish, but now I just accept it. Well, would you stand in line if you thought the person after you will jump the line? If you’re feeling particularly “moral” that day, you may wait in the line but if you’re thinking “rationally,” you’d jump the line yourself.
Morality is a complicated idea, even within one cultural context, but it only becomes more incomprehensible when you find yourself in a culture different than the one you grew up in. When am I being culturally sensitive and when am I losing my values? Am I assimilating or just losing my identity? Oh, I don’t know, but I’ll make my way inshallah.
Anyways, here's something lighter. Me in my first tksheta! (traditional Moroccan dress)