University News

Resilience Resources Weekly: A Personal Moral Compass

by Katie Clare, Associate Director for Resilience Programs, University Life

Southwick and Charney encourage us to embrace a personal moral compass to increase our resilience. Simply put, we need to know and develop our core beliefs and values.

Your personal moral compass is informed by your values, so recognizing, exploring, and living your values is a critical component. While some engage core beliefs and values through an active religious life, others do this through practices that fall outside of a religious affiliation, and these may or may not have a spiritual element. Just like with strengths and talents, your values need to be put into play on a regular basis, not just listed somewhere on a wall or in a journal. It is through regular engagement with your beliefs and values that your moral compass remains strong. It is this unwavering compass that helps you to push through the challenging times that demand resilience.

In the week ahead, consider the ways in which you might better understand your moral compass and the ways you might bolster it. To provide some inspiration, consider one or more of the following possibilities.

Dive Deep into Values

Our values help us to make decisions and help to sustain us. Knowing what’s important to us and knowing how to sustain ourselves are critical pieces of resilience. But things get murky when we don’t check in with our values every now and then. We don’t want to be on auto-pilot at a time when we should really be connecting with our values. Here are two stay-at-home, social distancing-friendly activities to deepen your thinking about values, along with a short article:

  • Watch this Ted Talk. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to think about material goods in the context of the values we live, learn, and lead by, but our things provide us with good data. You might explore the concept by considering examples from the speaker’s website. Consider taking it a step further by identifying some of your prized possessions and see how they relate to or illustrate your values. You might spend time writing about these connections in your journal. Maybe the writing stays in your journal, close to your heart. Maybe you make this an activity with friends or family and share with each other.
  • Sometimes it’s easier to look outside of ourselves to understand our values. Think of a favorite movie and watch it again. You can do this as a solo activity or you share with friends or family while observing stay-at-home orders. Maybe you pretend you’re at the theater with popcorn and candy. In re-watching the movie, let values be your lens. Consider which of your values shows up in the movie. Explore how the characters are motivated by their values. Is resilience part of the story? If so, is there a relationship between values and resilience for any of the characters? After watching the movie, make some deeper connections between what you saw and your own values. Perhaps your values are highlighted in compelling ways. Perhaps you see a value — one of your own or not -– in a new way. Perhaps you have a better understanding of what it might mean to live your values after watching it play out in the movie. Jot down some notes in your journal to record and reinforce these discoveries for yourself.
  • If you’re looking for reading material, this piece from the Harvard Business Reviewprovides good food for thought. Pay close attention to the Learning to Conserve section. 

Religious Practices

If your belief system is tied to religion, this might be a challenging time, as you might not be coming together with your religious community in the ways you’re used to doing so. Consider the following ways to maintain that connection and maybe even develop a better understanding of your beliefs in the context of religion:

  • Read about your religion or from the religious texts of your tradition. Reading for yourself, as opposed to hearing religious information or scriptures during a religious service, may allow for new discoveries.
  • Do the above but with a religion other than your own. See if it helps to reflect on your values and beliefs by exploring a religion that is less familiar.
  • Compile a playlist of favorite songs used in your religious services and spend time listening to it at home. Do these songs connect with you at a deeper level because they amplify or illustrate your beliefs?
  • You might not be enjoying coffee and donuts with fellow congregants before or after a service, so reach out to someone from your congregation and find a time to connect on the phone or through a video chat. You might even ask that person how his or her core beliefs have been activated in response to the pandemic. Hearing how someone else is leaning on their core beliefs may help you to better understand how you’re doing so yourself.
  • Congregations are handling the pandemic in different ways. Connect with someone who shares your faith tradition but lives elsewhere. Find out how his or her congregation is connecting and celebrating while social distancing. Don’t forget to ask this friend or family member how his or her core beliefs have shown up in recent weeks. Learning from others might inspire you to follow their lead.

Non-Religious Practices

If your belief system is tied to practices that fall outside of a religious affiliation, there’s still plenty to explore in the context of beliefs. Perhaps your practice has a spiritual component through meditation or yoga, for example. Perhaps your practice isn’t spiritual in a traditional sense. Perhaps what feeds your soul is something like reading, writing, cooking, making music, playing with your kids, or honoring your friendships. Devote time to this activity in an intentional way and consider the following:

  • When you engage in this space, how do you feel before, during, and after?
  • How does this activity allow you to activate or deepen your beliefs or values?
  • How does this activity speak to you because of your beliefs and values?
  • What, if any, connection exists for you between this practice and your own resilience?


Finally, there are strong ties in the research between altruism and resilience. Altruism is at play when we take action with a generous heart for the greater good. Even the simple act of wearing a mask can be thought of as an act of altruism. There have been plenty of stories about altruism in the wake of this pandemic, and you might explore this strategy simply by thinking about some of the most compelling examples you’ve heard. Here are some additional ways to think more about altruism in the context of this pandemic and the general development of resilience:

  • Explore why altruistic behavior is beneficial in times of crisis in this Psychology Today
  • Listen to this six minute piece on altruism with neuroscientist Judson Brewer. Also take a few minutes to explore the word cloud to get a richer understanding of the different behaviors that go into altruism. You might even think about what you’ve done during this pandemic that falls into that word cloud. For example, have you identified a charity that you believe in that’s doing particularly important work at this time? Have you volunteered anywhere as a result of the pandemic? Have you benefited from someone else’s altruistic behavior?
  • This story from early March is interesting to consider in reflecting on how the landscape and our behaviors have changed in the two months since it was published.
  • For a rich example of altruism in action in the visual arts as a result of this pandemic, consider this compelling example.