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What is Moral Intelligence?

Updated: May 8, 2023

By: Patricia R. Hamilton, MS, LMFT

Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.

Charles Reade

The truest measure of character is evidenced by what we do. Our single greatest responsibility is to be moral and to build moral intelligence in our children. We are not perfect, nor will our children ever be perfect. As human beings, we all struggle with our decisions, choosing right over wrong, putting good character ahead of instant gratification and relief. We learn to call on our higher selves by striving, day after day, to be good. Moral intelligence is learned and building moral intelligence in your children begins in their earliest years of life.

What is moral intelligence?

Dr. Michelle Borba, renowned educator and author, describes the seven essential virtues of moral intelligence. Empathy, conscience, self-control, respect, kindness, tolerance, and fairness. The core virtues, the ones most critical and foundational for the rest, are empathy, conscience, and self-control.

In a world increasingly conflicted with controversy, hatred, polarization, and a relentless, never-ending supply of rhetoric and biased messaging coming at us from every medium, parents must also be relentless and the first in line to be the teacher, the model, and the moral authority for their children. The education and building of moral intelligence in our children begins at home.

We are imperfect beings so our children will witness our process. They will see our struggle and the legitimate suffering that so often accompanies making difficult choices and striving to do the right thing, even when the cost is high. As we demonstrate good character and our own moral intelligence, our children will notice, learn and internalize these virtues as well. When we come up short, and we will, we must openly own our mistakes and misjudgments and make amends, so our children will learn how and find dignity in the truth.

Our mistakes don't define us. It is what we do next that determines our character. Actions speak louder than words. We must strive and teach our children to strive to be morally good, especially in a world so confused about what is right and wrong.


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