My name is Wlayche and I live and work in Serbia. I am using this opportunity to introduce myself and to start a conversation in which I hope to find more clarity and insights on a matter I consider highly important in our daily lives – moral code and how we understand it, how we build it and what influences it, and how it affects what is 21st century religion or spirituality. In the ever-growing complexity of life, it is difficult to fully understand how to help people not to feel restrained by the moral code determined primarily by traditions and religion (which I believe need redefining and adapting).
To me, a moral code is a set of values and principles a person adopts going through life and which is then used in all situations to determine her course of actions. Those values and principles originate from different sources – our family, education, religion, traditions, but are also shaped by experiences. I believe that although there is a national culture, dominant religion and tradition, we are mostly exposed to them through contexts framed to us by our family, teachers, friends and people we meet. Our moral code is not only that, but what ends up “written” in the code depends on how we and to what extent do we apply dominant interpretations, which has much to do with situations we experienced ourselves – on a very individual level. With me, as with most others, it all started with my family. In our house, taking care of each other, spending time together, being kind to people and always learning new things were the biggest religion. I was 16 when I figured out we were religious (Orthodox Christians) – I was so focused on the family customs and studying that I missed out on the God part completely.
I tried to understand the religion and traditional customs better, and how they applied to my life. Debates in my high school made it easy to challenge a lot of the concepts and to reflect on different opinions. Various authors I read, the people I hang out with from the Science Centre, university, debate, NGOs made me realize that I do not agree with how traditions and religion interpreted most of the things around us. They teachus to cherish and love our family, but the Church also seems to indicate that rule somehow does not apply to LGBTQ people or people of other race and class. They say women are the core pillar of society and family, but domestic violence is overlooked and women’s sexual harassment issues ignored. The traditions put too much burden on a society by prescribing who should do what and how, and who is entitled to it.
Those traditions and religious inputs collided with things that felt more naturally to me – if all humans are equal than the rules should apply to all, and not to some; that it is important what we think about how we treat each other and not be guided in our actions by some supposed higher authority; that being fair won’t always pay off, but one should be fair anyways. As I was growing up it became more and more difficult to deal with all the contradictory inputs and insights I got from the exposure from all these different sources (cultural and societal norms which are set by tradition and religion, my own sense of morality, things I read and taught doing NGO work and volunteering and things I saw happening on a wider economic and political spectrum).It feels that we have to deal with many more and faster changes than our parents and grandparents had to, when information was not only a click away and they relied much more on the storytelling of the families and experiences from school and work. It was easier then to follow the “moral” code – it was primarily connected to religion and to tradition, and there were less people challenging those codes and values. I am still grappling with living my life according to my own moral code, which I do not feel is shared by majority of the nation. Most of the time It feels like I live in a bubble in which spirituality is not connected to some sort of God or some stone-written principles, but rather to a group of values which can be interpreted differently and are flexible enough to adapt to new realities. I will use just one example – I was taught by my family but also by our dominant culture and religion that family is the backbone of society. To me, this meant that this rule applies when your child is LGBTQ/decides not to have children/decides not to go to college/doesn’t have a steady job, but our societal and dominant moral code for now fails to adapts to the reality of this and to truly embrace what loving and caring for your family means (in my opinion).
In my life I try and apply this minority moral code to everything I do – I didn’t like the work cultures I worked in before, so I created my own when I became an executive. I am not giving up on fighting for women empowerment, marginalized groups and pushing for climate action. In this I used to feel lonely, but in the past years a movement is starting to rise and narrative of what is dominant desired behavior is slowly changing. Having said that, even though people who share my values and “moral code” are still a minority, it feels like that minority is rising in numbers. If the term “national” can still be used in the framework of the globalized society, I believe that the new culture and new spirituality, one that is human-centered and not tradition and/or religion oriented, can only be brought by bringing in more people to act on their beliefs and by showing that those who think like I do are not – in fact – alone.
It feels impossible to say what spirituality means in 21st century on a global level –there are opposite (again) sides of the spectrum and so many options in between. From being full on religious and seeing spirituality in believing in a higher force, be it God, aliens or…well, spirits, to believing in people as the only arbitrators of what is moral, there are so many options. In the complexity and interconnections of different cultures, religions, traditions, trends - it is difficult to formulate what a national moral code is or what is indeed spirituality. The fluidity of concepts and constant challenges of the traditional moral code and constant changes make it difficult to understand what the code is. But in these times it is of utmost importance to try and understand our own moral code, as it then serves as the personal compass in this big net of interpretations and alternative moral codes.