Following up my piece on unacceptable behavior, quiet quitting and moral burn-outs, let’s discuss moral burn-outs as being an epidemic. No, I don’t have stats. Nor have I conducted any researches. I am certain that others have done this for me. Likewise, I am a bit lazy when typing this on a Monday morning, so I haven’t looked for those pieces of evidence. Yet, I am pretty certain that we find ourselves in the midst of an epidemic worse than the pandemic, due to the many, many moral injuries that people have endured over a long period of time. In fact, maybe this epidemic has become worse since the pandemic. Who knows?
Moral stress and injuries as being cognitive and emotional responses to violations of personal values over a long period of time. All of this when people cannot stop attitudes and behavior to occur that are not in line with those values – both in the case of themselves and of others and both when they are aware of it and when they aren’t. As I always say: integrity is holding on to your inner compass. Moreover, it is your attitude and behavior towards others when you are not around them.
Previously, moral burn-outs have been more associated with trauma experienced by people in the military, thus veterans. Now, more and more people talk about the impact of moral burn-outs within the business world, religious institutions, schools, the world of sports and so on. People enter those environments, for example their work-life, with a personal blueprint (and they are born with a certain nature), including a framework in terms of morals, ethics and integrity. Those blueprints are personal indeed because those are different per person. Then, people notice a major discrepancy between their blueprint and the ecosystem that they find themselves in.
Part of moral burn-outs is the pattern of going back to the issues over and over again and having a mixture of complex feelings, including betrayal, mistrust, shame, sadness, reactivity and anger. Besides, health issues occur due to repressed feelings – indeed: the body keeps score. Perfectionism or absenteeism can also occur. Oh yes, do I know about perfectionism. When is ‘good’ good enough? Downplaying situations and compromising who people truly are is another pattern. That one happens a lot, but is a foreign concept to me. That one happens especially in the business world because that paycheck is so needed indeed.
Within religion, that one happens because a discrepancy in terms of world view and beliefs can mean that entire communal structures can crumble before people’s eyes. Plus, that people may be confronted with living a lie. In short, this pattern is contagious, as the majority of humankind may find it hard to have a strong backbone, to live by that backbone and to decide what is right for them and what is not. Sooner or later, those people find themselves feeling completely empty inside, as they don’t remember who they truly are at the core. All while the toxic ecosystem stays the same.
The breakthrough starts to happen when enough people listen to each other and when enough people initiate conversations that actually matter instead of having superficial interactions, for example to avoid loss of face. That is why all those stories reaching the public domain, thus the media, are so important. People need to feel heard first before navigating towards a better world. They won’t find the recognition that they need within that environment. Because the truth is that, as history shows us, such ecosystems have not been psychologically safe, transparent, supportive and honest to solve matters internally until now. Besides, most of those ecosystems have had different priorities and have lacked caring about culture enough, including morals, ethics and integrity.
It is due to the voices who dare to speak out that the ecosystems had to start their course of change. In many of those ecosystems, even the basics aren’t in place, or those are not actively impacting the environment. Indeed, it starts with leading by example before asking what comes next. That is why I believe that this epidemic may take a while to solve.
The Dutch version of this article was published by Boom Management.