Monday, October 20, 2008

Tricky Ethics

Well, that was interesting.

I attended an ethics workshop to try to get certified to do research. I sat between two professors who complained that they had been “tricked” into coming and two research students from the neuro-psych department who talked about a subject that had undergone a “procedure” but might not have survived.

I was quite relieved to find out the subject was a lab rat.

The one professor rolled her eyes and announced that she had been given the assignment to teach a course on ethics for her department. The research students primarily saw ethics as having to do with animal research or how ethically they were being treated by their advisors. The professors felt put out because the onus for teaching ethics fell on their shoulders and they were already busy. The students felt it was the professors’ job to teach them what to do and straighten them out if they were going astray, ethics-wise.

So here I am a student in a class that is learning about the stages of moral development and I am sitting at a table with four highly educated, presumably highly developed people who are working from the viewpoint of: 1. ethics isn’t my job and 2. it’s not wrong unless I get caught.

Not exactly high stages of moral development; in fact the same stages could be used to describe kindergarten restroom behaviors. (See the previous two posts)

We spent the day talking about how universities ought to teach ethics, in the unspoken context of moral relativism. The room was full of a large group of people who admit they are forced to teach when what they really want to do is research. They know little about effective teaching but feel that teaching is a lower level skill. However, they wonder why their efforts to teach ethics are failing. I was frequently encouraged to speak up because my opinion as a graduate student was valued, but frankly, I didn’t know where to begin. To me this was just wrong on so many levels.

I got a migraine and left early.

One thing, that was said, keeps running circles in my head. One of the workshop leaders made the point that it is easy for scientists to step over the line ethically because they believe they are purists when it comes to the scientific method. They believe that somehow makes them immune to unethical behavior like falsifying data or taking credit for a colleague’s work. This belief lets down their guard and allows them to sort of slip slowly into unethical territory with justifications such as “I know what the ‘right’ answer is anyway” or “I am under so much pressure to publish.”

Oooh, that stings. Here I am feeling all snotty because as a church worker of 25+ years my world has been all about ethics and morals and such. I have had the blessing to have been given a faith that is based on an absolute truth. I obviously have an advantage over these poor secular, relativistic clueless scientists. Hmmm. Who is working from the lowest stage of moral development, now? Who is being judgmental in spite of her faith? Who is slipping into unethical territory because she feels SHE is immune? My last blood test showed I am immune to measles but I am not immune to sin, and I am most definitely not immune to pride.

How often does this happen in church work? How often does a pastor let his moral guard down when it comes to sexual attraction? How often does a principal or a teacher, or a DCE let his/her moral guard down when it comes to justifying a new set of rules, an all-law-and-no-grace classroom management technique or the treatment of a child? I know I have asked several times, how could a pastor or a principal or a teacher let that happen? I know I have asked myself that about my own behavior. You would think we would know better.

We do know better; we just don’t do better.

If you seek answers to life’s persistent questions: read your Bible. My daily Bible reading for the same day of the workshop, had I managed to get up early enough to read it before I left, held the answer:

Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?

Differing weighs and differing measures – the LORD detests them both.

Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.

Proverbs 20:9-10

When I try to justify my actions with shifty reasons such as assuming that I am beyond reproach or that the child needs to learn this lesson regardless of my method of teaching it, I am using differing weights and differing measures to try to make it all come out right in the end. That is detestable. It may be hidden from me but it is not hidden from God.

The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of man;

it searches out his inmost being.

Proverbs 20: 27

Thankfully, for me, and for my migraine, I have a loving and forgiving God. I think I have found the direction for my prayers for this week.

I still need ethics training, though.

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