Wednesday at school, we were studying 'ethics', and to supplement that lesson, we went to hear a presentation by a man who calls himself "The Ethics Guy". Bruce Weinstein has a degree in philosophy, and something called bioethics, and he has written five books on the subject of ethics. He is a regular commentator on CNN.
He has five simple principals that he feels that ethics hinge on. Number 1: Do no harm. Number 2: Make things better. Number 3: Respect others. Number 4: Be fair. Number 5: Be compassionate.
I sat in the auditorium with my classmates listening to this talk, and I thought to myself, "Why does this even have to be taught?"
I think that it is a fair question, because when I was a kid, you learned number 1, number 3, number 4, and number 5 in kindergarten. You weren't allowed to be mean. You had to be respectful, you played fairly, and you had to be nice. If you didn't, your adored kindergarten teacher would scold you. It would make you feel terrible, and you would cry, and the other kids would see your tears and laugh at you. It was an awful day, and you knew that it was not over. Your parents would not allow you to drop out of kindergarten. You were forced back into the classroom the next day. You tried to behave better, because heaven knows, you did not want to go through another horrible day.
Am I ethical? I think that I am. I think the majority of people are. We are not perfect. We don't always do the right thing. But when we get off course, there is that internal compass that pulls us back to where we need to be.
Now, I don't know how that internal compass got there. Some people think it is God-given. Others feel that it is the result of good parenting. All I know is that I have one. I can't remember not having one, and it seems to be true for anyone I talk to on the subject. We try, we fall short, we think, we alter our course, and then try again. It's a never ending cycle.
Apparently, things have changed in today's world. I don't mean to stereotype, because there are a lot of good kids in the world, but I've begun to notice a trend.
Our tendency is to save our children. We don't want our children to feel ashamed. We don't want our children to have a bad day. We try to give them everything they want. We teach them that they are worthy of respect, but are we teaching them to respect others? We want them to be winners, and we want them to be happy. If they have a bad day at school, we must wade in there and sort that out, because there is nothing more important than their happiness.
We see the results of this leniency and self indulgent upbringing all around us: tire slashings and broken windows at a recent sporting event. The fact that you cannot stand in line at the local fast food restaurant without hearing someone dropping the f-bomb, and usually dropping it repeatedly. Adults in their mid- and even late- twenties still dependent on their parents for the roof over their heads even as they continue to live a teenager's life, a lifestyle that should have ended when they finished school.
So it comes to this: we have to teach ethics in school, to break the concept down into baby steps. We have to teach grown adults that we should not hurt others, that we should be respectful, that we should play fair, be nice. That we should try to make the world a better place. The ethics guy is teaching college students what they should already know.
It's not just the kids though. Mr. Weinstein travels around the country giving seminars to big business. Instructing big business. He has a column in Business Weekly. He is a corporate consultant. He helps big business answers burning questions like this: Is it ethical for a company to make millions of dollars in profit for its shareholders while denying health benefits for its lowest employees? Let's apply that decision to his five principals. Is it harmful to others? (yes) Does it make things better? (wellfor the shareholders, maybe. Everyone else? Not so much.) Is it respectful of others? (no.) Is it fair? (noooooo.) Is it compassionate? (nope.) Well then, Mr. Big Business, perhaps this is not ethical. Big Business stands there blinking in the bright light of this new revelation. Who knew?
Don't get me wrong. I wish Mr. Weinstein well. Preach it, brother! I hope your message rings clear and loud in this world. I hope that message makes a difference.
It's just that I'm a middle aged woman, and I remember being in kindergarten.