This is a guest post from Riya Sander. Riya is an overseas teacher. She has spent her past 5 years teaching in Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines.
All too often, I hear adults tell children to simply “do the right thing”.
This is not enough. We need to help children figure out:
what is the right thing or
how to decide what is right.
Teaching in various schools, in various countries, I’ve seen a wide range of responses: from completely ignoring ethics to teaching ethical decision making at all levels of the school curriculum.
Some parents ask if ethics and education belong together. Ethics are the shared values of a given group or culture. There are some ethical values that are widely shared, and others that vary widely depending on the local culture. This is one of the conflicts that children must be taught about.
Not just “It is Wrong”, but Why is it Wrong?
One ethics teacher, Alyssa Kelly, described teaching ethics this way: “The emphasis is not on moral instruction but on finding reasons why something might be right or wrong.” Instead of teaching students what is right or wrong, ethics courses for primary school students focus on teaching them how to decide for themselves what is right or wrong.
Students are faced with challenging social situations on a regular basis. Not every moral instruction can be blindly applied to every situation. When I ask my students if it’s okay to lie, they respond “no” in unison every time, in every class, regardless of what country I was teaching in. The nuances of “right” and “wrong” are more subtle when students have to choose between the lesser of two evils.
Ethical Decisions are Never Black and White
I once had a female student whose friend was contemplating suicide. The suicidal girl told her friend what she was thinking of doing to herself, but asked her not to tell anyone. She asked her friend to keep her plans a secret. The friend, my student, was distraught. Someone was in danger, but she was asked to keep that danger a secret. Thanks to her ethics classes, she was able to reason her way through the situation. She later told me that, although she felt bad about breaking her promise to keep her friend’s secret, the resulting intervention and the fact that the broken promise helped to save her friend’s life was worth it. The suicidal girl was angry at the time, but became very thankful to her friend after therapy.
Ethical choices apply to what students say as well. With the growth of social media and its use earlier and earlier by students, we do them a great service by teaching them how to make ethical decisions about what to do and what to say before they reach the quagmire of social media. An acronym I frequently use with my students, which fits well in the ESL curriculum, is before you post/write/speak, THINK. Consider these factors: is what you’re about to say True, Helpful, Informative, Necessary, and Kind. We then discuss what these words mean to each of us. Students always enjoy the play on words: they learn about thinking, and each of those factors requires serious personal thought.
Did you T.H.I.N.K.?
“Sitting in a circle listening to other people is a skill set that many adults could benefit from.” Alyssa Kelly
Once we’ve learned this acronym, students often help each other remember what to do: “May, did you THINK before you said that to Kai?” This is one of the great benefits of having these kids talk through questions that make them think. As teacher Alyssa Kelly said, “Sitting in a circle listening to other people is a skill set that many adults could benefit from.”
One of the keys to this type of program is starting early. The earlier primary school students start to learn about how to think through ethical questions, the easier it will be for them. Skills learned early in life are foundational. This type of problem solving will lead to greater skill in more and more complicated problems that students will encounter later in life.
The Benefits of Early Ethical Education
Ethics and education go hand in hand. In addition to teaching children facts and figures, teaching ethics begins to lay the groundwork of metacognition: thinking about how we think. If we can help them develop an awareness of how they think about things and how they make value decisions early in life, we set them up to make better choices throughout their lives as well as preparing them for higher level thinking that will be of great use later in their education.
About the Author: Riya Sander is an overseas teacher. She holds a master’s degree from Australia Institute of Business & Technology. She has spent her past 5 years teaching in ESL countries i.e. Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines. She currently works for Point to Point Education, a dynamic education recruitment company.
In 1726, at the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin created a system to develop his character. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues of Life are listed as:
Temperance: Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.
Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.
Order: Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.
Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
Frugality: Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. Waste nothing.
Industry: Lose no Time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.
Sincerity: Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Justice: Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
Moderation: Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Cleanliness: Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.
Tranquility: Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
Chastity: Rarely use venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.
Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
“I propos’d to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex’d to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave to its meaning.” – Benjamin Franklin
De duodecim abusivis saeculi “On the Twelve Abuses of the World” is a self-help book written by an Irish author between 630 and 700AD. You could say that it was the earliest precursor to Steven Covey, Brian Tracy or Jim Rohn.
The work was widely propagated throughout Europe by Irish missionaries in the 8th century. Its authorship was often attributed to Saint Patrick (the general view today is that it was not his work).
Duodecim abusivis saeculi
De duodecim condemns the following twelve abuses:
the wise man without works; sapiens sine operibus
the old man without religion; senex sine religione
the young man without obedience; adolescens sine oboedientia
the rich man without charity; dives sine elemosyna
the woman without modesty; femina sine pudicitia
the nobleman without virtue; dominus sine virtute
the argumentative Christian; Christianius contentiosus
the proud pauper; pauper superbus
the unjust king; rex iniquus
the neglectful bishop; episcopus neglegens
the community without order; plebs sine disciplina
the people without a law; populus sine lege
This form of document is part of a broad category of medieval literature called “Mirrors for Princes”. They were developed to educate future kings in the leadership qualities that would be needed in their role as king. The best known of these works is The Prince by Machiavelli.
Cassandra lived in the time of greek myth, before we put numbers to the years. She was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of the city of Troy. She was a strong willed, beautiful red head. Her beauty was so great that she is considered the second most beautiful woman of all greek pre-history. (who was the most beautiful? *answer is at the end of this post) My own daughter’s name is a variant of Cassandra (Alexandra).
Her beauty and character brought her to the attention of the god Apollo. Apollo fell in love with her.
In order to seduce Cassandra, Apollo tried several approaches. Finally she made clear her demand: she would marry him in exchange for the gift of prophecy.
Apollo granted her this gift and Cassandra became able to see the future, to see all that was to come.
The wedding day came, Apollo was waiting… but Cassandra did not come. She broke the engagement. Apollo was angry.
The rules of greek gods were clear: what the god has given, he may not take away. Apollo could not take away prophecy. In his anger he cursed Cassandra with a cruelty that only greek gods could achieve.
Cassandra would never be believed. No one would ever believe her words.
Cassandra saw that her brother would die in the fight with Hercules, she saw the arrival of the greek army, she saw the truth of the Trojan horse. She tried and tried and tried to get her parents, her friends, the leaders of Troy to listen, but none would believe.
Cassandra ended her days as a mad, mad red headed beauty.
Don’t Be Cassandra
Imagine knowing the future and nobody believing you. Imagine having a plan for a project and nobody will get involved. Imagine trying to create a new business and nobody will invest, no client will buy and no supplier will agree to work with you. It is a maddening agony.
Cassandra was cursed by Apollo, but some of us choose the curse by not paying attention to our reputation, our character and the impression we create when we meet other people.
How to Build Credibility
credibility krɛdɪˈbɪlɪti / noun a) the quality of being trusted and believed in. synonyms: trustworthiness, reliability, dependability, integrity, character; b) the quality of being convincing or believable.synonyms: plausibility, believability, acceptability, tenability, probability, likelihood, authority, authoritativeness, impressiveness, cogency, weight, validity, soundness;
How to be Cassandra
There are 3 killers of Credibility that will bring upon you the curse that Apollo cast upon mad, mad Cassandra.
Undeclared direct self-serving interests
Undeclared vested interests
In essence, don’t be Cassandra. In greek myth, the opposite mythological role is Orpheus. He was always listened to, always believed. He is known as “The Inspired Singer”.
How to be Orpheus
Orpheus was always believed. His word was trusted. His plans were listened to. His requests for help were met with attention, resources and committed people.
Nobody is born as Orpheus. It is the fruit of choices about how you live your life. No matter what your role or position, Orpheus’ credibility is something that you have to earn. It takes time, patience, and consistency to build credibility. Credibility most grows when you are helping others achieve personal success.
Aristotle’s 3 Categories of Credibility
According to Aristotle, there are three categories of ethical character. (His exploration of character comes from an exploration of the Socratic question: “how should man best live?”)
Aristotle separates the ingredients into two levels, the first level are two virtues that are the foundation of all the rest. The foundational virtues are:
The edifice of credible character is then built of the following lived virtues:
Greatness of Soul
Gentleness (concerning Anger)
The Absence of Shame – Aristotle has a hard time with this idea, expressing that shame is a force that is necessary in youth to hold them back from overstepping bounds, but as wisdom develops with age an individual must remove the shackles of shame.
Lets bring this down to practical steps. Here are 5 practical guidelines:
Spend time building relationships with mentors, role models and friends of credible character. Find a way of having conversations about the tough choices that they have had to make in their lives (being Orpheus comes at a price). It is also important to realise that you are a mentor to others and to take this role proactively. Who are the people who you wish to inspire? Let them know what you see in them.
Show others that you care about their future. Listen to other’s goals and help them clarify what is important to them.
Do what you say you’re going to do. (and Don’t do what you don’t proactively decide to do.)
Develop expertise – invest in becoming wiser. I find that learning skills that I am not good at keeps a little bit of humility in me when I then work in areas where I am good. (Ballroom dancing is a great source of humility for me)
Be transparent about what you know and don’t know. The more you share about your own experience, the more others will open up to you. Self-disclosure, when you reveal information about yourself to others, is an important part of transparency.
Communities are Conservative, Business is Progressive
There is an inherent conflict between communities and companies. Communities (family, neighbourhood, tradition) try to maintain stability. Companies are driven by the nature of the capitalism market system to innovate and change. (See Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” on wikipedia) .
Stability vs Destruction
Companies close their factories and replace deeply experienced craft men with young computer geeks who can build the model inside a CAD/CAM system. Companies move accounts payable from outside of town, to outside of the continent and 25 middle managers who have spent 25 years working in accounts no longer have a workplace to go to. The community is hit by this loss of incomes and hope.
What is the right balance between Creative Destruction (Capitalism) and Stability (Community)?
This may be a moot question – Creative Destruction is an international, intercontinental force. A community has little power to decide “we will step outside of this cycle”.
Europe is facing this on a brutal scale. These two forces are pulling the euro project in many directions, testing political will, raising emotions. Karl Marx predicted that capitalist society would come to this point – debasement of the money supply (otherwise known as Quantitative Easing), greater and greater proportion of profit going to the owners of capital (not labour), monopolistic tendency in industries. His view was that capitalism would inevitably collapse under its own success.
Community has provided the softening balance that has kept capitalism from collapsing under its own successes. However we face an intense conflict. We don’t have free markets, we have crony capitalism. The banks that should have failed, were not allowed to fail. The bankers at the center of the capitalism disaster turned to community to save themselves – and community did.
Capitalism is needed to innovate, but Community is needed to soften the harsh blows and to save capitalism from its own failings.
Changing and Caring
Entrepreneurship is needed in society, in public service, in schooling as much as it is needed in business. The modern world needs a continual updating mechanism – otherwise our nation will be left behind. We have found no other comparable mechanism than the market to continually improve products, services and people (evolution is a sort of market mechanism).
Society needs a balancing function. The brutal consequences of competition – loss of jobs, loss of value of skills, unemployment, increasing cost of debt servicing… need people who can support us in tough moments.
This conflict is always going to be there. Society wants stability. Global markets force change.
How can society cope with the ever increasing speed of global change? What happens when companies innovate fast? How can we help communities accommodate the increased pace of change?
It is Messy, isn’t it
I don’t have any simple answers. I am currently taking the course “Moral Foundations of Political Systems” on Coursera with Yale Professor Ian Shapiro. Over the past 5 weeks we have moved through Enlightenment, to Utilitarianism, to Marxism and this week onto Social Contract theory. I love several moments in the course where Shapiro asks a simple question to the partipants… they give a go at what seems a simple enough question… and then he smiles and says “it is messy, isn’t it. You can’t take the politics out of human decisions.”
I have just been scanning the book The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership.
In the words of the authors: “Leadership is not the same as management. Not everyone can be a leader. what distinguishes the real leader from a mere administrator is a unique series of perspectives and values.”
The authors of this book (Michael Soupios and Panos Mourdoukoutas) are philosophy professors who share 10 ancient sayings from the Greek sages as a basis for quality leadership today.
The office shows the person
Nurture community at the workplace
Do not waste energy on things you cannot change
Always embrace the truth
Let competition reveal talent
Live life by a higher code
Always evaluate information with a critical eye
Never underestimate the power of personal integrity
Character is destiny
The authors say that “True leadership begins with a philosophy of life.” You must decide what type of person you wish to be. Leadership cannot be done by the numbers.
Last week I taught a course on persuasive communication. One individual was a charismatic speaker who repeatedly gave speeches that I would classify as “Rant”. This is a passionate and initially engaging way of speaking, but it has no place in a Leader’s communication.
To rant is to speak or shout at length in an angry, impassioned way.
Leaders Do Not Rant
A rant is never a leadership speech.
A rant doesn’t help the situation.
A rant is lazy.
A rant is not enough. You have to decide:
“what action can I take to improve the situation?”
“what action can we take together to improve the situation?”
If you are ranting about something that you can change, this is lazy: do the next step and take action, then ask us for action.
St Francis of Assisi had this prayer:
“Lord give me the strength to change the things I can change, Give me the patience to accept the things I cannot change, and the Wisdom to tell the difference.”
If you are ranting ab0ut something that we cannot change, you are wasting your energy.
The wisdom to tell the difference comes from thinking about whether there is an action that you or I can take that might improve the situation. If I cannot find an action, then I am probably dealing with a type 2 Assisi situation: lets accept this one and find a place we can make a difference. If I can find an action, then the speech is about inspiring us to take this action.
I just watched Thomas Hyunh speak about his lifetime obsession with Sun-Tzu, the 2,500 year old Chinese General, at Authors@Google (video at the bottom of this post). Sun-Tzu was only 30 years old when he led the smallest region of China to victory over the largest region. This victory made him famous, and made his book “The Art of War” into the widely read book that it has become.
What makes Sun-Tzu’s Art of War relevant to us today? Conflict is part of our lives. Personal relations, company market share battles, political struggle – how can we approach these challenges in an effective manner?
Whether it is military conflict or politics within an organisation, Sun-Tzu’s guidelines are relevant.
Sun-Tzu In a Nutshell
Control yourself. Thus you can influence others.
Adapt to your environment. It accentuates your strengths and ameliorates your weakness.
Never sell out your principles. “The general who does not advance to seek glory or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people’s security and promotes the people’s interest is the nation’s treasure”
“Before doing battle, in the temple one calculates and will win”Sun-Tzu
#1 Principle: Control Yourself
Number 1 is Control Yourself. Sun-Tzu is very deliberate about his guidelines of separating out Ego and Emotion from decision making. Thomas quotes him in his talk “Before doing battle, in the temple one calculates and will win” – take decisions away from field of combat. As in combat, so in life. Life decisions taken under high emotion or driven by ego desire are dangerous. They need reflection in the light of a meditative peaceful pose.
“Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot be brought back to life” Sun-Tzu. Strong emotions will go away, but actions can never be undone. Battle that is driven by revenge, by anger, by frustration is not good battle. Personal conflict that is driven by anger, revenge is not good for either party.
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