Exploring the origins, ethics and future of changemaking

Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Ethics and reincarnation

In Ethics, Spirituality on June 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

I was at a party the other night and was struck by how many people there had deep spiritual interests. On top of this, they were all pursuing powerful and purposeful lives. In short, they were wanting to do good in the world.

We got talking about ethics and where our western thought around what is right or wrong, good or bad comes from. One woman in our circle studied philosophy and ethics extensively, and declared that she always had trouble with the dominance of ‘white men’ as the pinnacle of ethical thinking, at least in the West. The conversation wasn’t all ‘gendered’ either. We unpacked a number of dimensions of modern ethical thinking, including this obsession with rational thought and how that might have influenced our thinking in this way.

As our conversation unfolded, it became clear that we all shared a belief or knowing around the principle of reincarnation. For some of us the knowledge that we are all Souls who inhabits many bodies over many lifetimes, has become such a central feature or lens through which we view ourselves and the world. Of course, reincarnation is not limited to our conversation circle. Reincarnation has been a central tenet of many spiritual teachings across the world for eons.

While it has not been a central feature of the Christian faith (there are references to reincarnation in the Bible), Read the rest of this entry »


Ethics for robots

In Ethics, Futures on June 4, 2012 at 9:32 am

I’m going out on a limb here to talk about something I have very little idea about. I came across this story earlier in The Economist called “Morals and the machine“, which explores the development of robotics in certain fields and the emergence of “machine ethics”.

The article outlines a bunch of areas where robotics have high levels of interaction with humans, and where a robot’s actions or behaviour could have negative implications or consequences for humans. Examples provided include the use of robotics in the military, transport and health care. As robotics become more sophisticated and being making ‘decisions’ that have an ethical dimension, so too will the programming of the robots need to be become equally sophisticated.

But how does one determine what kind of ethical program (paradigm or framework) to install in a robot? If you are creating a robot in the US for use or implementation in another part of the world, do you install an ‘Americentric’ ethical framework? or values and ethics that are culturally appropriate to the culture in which it will be used? If one thinks of ethics as being what is right to most people, then who are most people? I assume that the people making robots are making them for global consumption, whereby the user would not necessarily be part of the maker’s ‘most people’.

I wonder how significant masculinity and femininity are in shaping ethical thinking or behaviour. As robots are gender neutral, are the installed ethical frameworks more biased towards the masculine or feminine? Or age for that matter: the ethical decisions made by someone at age 10 compared to age 40 or 80 would be entirely different. Read the rest of this entry »

Social media ethics and the limits of Facebook

In Ethics on May 31, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I want to write about a topic that is quite sensitive, and I do so with total respect for all people involved. I am writing to explore how we are engaging with social media in discussing sensitive topics, and in this case: death.

Recently a friend and colleague passed away after a long battle with cancer. For the purposes of this story, I will call him “Henry”. To be clear, he wasn’t just my friend – Henry was a friend to a great number of people. His work and life touched literally hundreds of people, many of whom are not even aware of it.

I found out about Henry’s death through a Facebook post. Specifically, someone had posted “RIP Henry” within hours of his death. This was not the way that I would have liked to find out. I was first struck by the way people responded to that post by clicking ‘LIKE’. I then had to go on a hunt through Facebook to find more information. It seemed as though people had been tweeting, emailing and facebooking throughout the day about his death, and many of whom had not even met him.

I have been grappling since around whether to write about this, how I might write about it, and indeed when is the right time. Henry’s life was completely dedicated to issues of social change, justice and ethics. My most recent conversations with him over the last couple of months of his life were about ethics, and in many senses our work together over the past three years ignited the passion in me that led to the creation of this blog. I am sure that he would not have wanted me to shy away from this.

Henry was also not shy in talking about Read the rest of this entry »

Ethics without anger or taking sides

In Ethics, Personal Reflections on May 25, 2012 at 11:38 am

Two questions: can you discuss ethics without taking sides? and can you explore ethics without anger?

So far I have received some good feedback on this blog, but one question keeps coming up: when are you going to take sides? When I look around the ethics community, I see how we think this way. It seems that to be ethical one has to take a firm position on what is right and what is wrong.

I’m not sure if it is because I am reluctant to commit to a position, or because I sense another way of looking at ethics; it just doesn’t seem to be the kind of ethical debate I am looking for.

I have been following the #ethics stream on twitter and have been struck by the anger that seems to drive the discussion and contribution there. Aside from the occasional inspirational quote, it seems like the majority of ‘ethical’ thought in the twitter stream is driven by anger, judgement and condemnation. I have witnessed this offline also. In the mainstream media and social world, it is commonplace to judge the ethics of corporations and governments with loathing and vitriol. One may say that the actions of corporations and government can at times make these responses warranted. I am not going to dispute that.

My wondering is whether anger is a useful space from which to explore ethics. I know for myself that when I am angry my brain seems to contract into a withering and ineffective tool. I somehow close myself off from alternate perspectives, and the anger fuels an outcome that it wants but Read the rest of this entry »

The ethics of rescuing food

In Ethics on May 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I want to explore the idea of rescue as an approach to changemaking, and why some aspects of the ‘rescue industry’ have hidden ethical challenges. This is a follow on from my post on how to rescue a racehorse, which explored a new rescue-based idea to tackle problems in the horse-racing industry.

Rescuing others is not a new concept in the changemaking world. We are familiar with animal rescue organisations that play a role in protecting the rights of animals, and providing support and shelter when at their most vulnerable. Although often not referred to in this way, rescue work also happens with people who are in vulnerable positions (like children). I am not here to lay any judgement on these organisations; I do want to explore the nature of rescue and other ways of creating change.

A more recent field in which this meme has entered is that of ‘food rescue’. Food rescue is the process whereby wasted food is ‘rescued’ from restaurants to be given a ‘second life’ by distributing to those who could use it. In both the US and Australia (and beyond), food rescue organisations have attracted an enormous amount of support and public acclaim. The social entrepreneurs behind these ventures in both countries have been heralded as visionary leaders doing important work.

Rescuing food seems somewhat different to rescuing animals or vulnerable people. In one sense, the food itself does not experience vulnerability in the same way. Environmentally of course, the wastage of food in the hospitality industry is a massive problem. Read the rest of this entry »

How to rescue a racehorse

In Dilemmas, Ethics on May 1, 2012 at 9:48 am

About a month ago a guy pitched me his idea in an elevator (yes, it actually happens). His idea was to ‘rescue a racehorse’. Actually, he wanted to not just rescue one racehorse, he wanted to rescue thousands of them. He explained to me what he saw as a problem of racehorses being slaughtered for the use of dog food. This problem by his accounts is not insignificant – one site quotes 18,000 Australia horses slaughtered each year.

The guy who pitched me the idea was a successful entrepreneur in his own right. Not having worked in the ‘social entrepreneurship’ space he wanted some quick advice as to what legal structure he should adopt. I replied along the lines of “these problems are often more complex than simple legal advice would warrant”. Despite his confidence in the solution, I managed to convince him that we should meet to discuss.

When we sat down the following week to explore the problem of racehorse slaughter, the complexity of the problem became more apparent. His original idea was to set up an organisation that allowed people to adopt racehorses or foals that were being sent to slaughter. He had a neat little funding model for it, and sales campaign idea that at first glance seemed like it would be attractive to people out in the market.

I asked him what other new problems this ‘rescuing’ might create. We came up with a list including: Read the rest of this entry »

From a dilemma to systems view of ethics

In Ethics on April 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm

In my experience, I have found ethics to be a topic that is raised almost exclusively when there is a dilemma or problem. This makes sense as the situation provides urgency. All situations call for us to bring forth our values, beliefs, worldviews and experiences. When the stakes are high, this is even more acute. We face ethical dilemmas all the time, and often they may not even be dramatic enough to register as ethical dilemmas. We therefore don’t approach them as such. I would say that any decision that involves or impacts the life of ourselves, others, animals or the planet has an ethical dimension. In human terms this can be as basic as giving someone a voice (or not) through to making decisions that affect their futures.

I don’t deny the importance of dilemma-based ethics, or using problems as a way of exploring and learning about ethics. In many senses, how we respond in difficult times can be a litmus test for how we think, feel and act ethically in other parts of our lives. My intention is for this blog to explore more systemic, cultural, spiritual and psychological dimensions of ethics and doing good. I am interested in what motivates us to ‘do good’ in the first place, and how we build an ethical life. I can’t help but wonder if we become more conscious of these processes and how we wish to live, that our experience of dilemmas and problems would shift dramatically anyway.


Courage, humility and forgiveness in ethics

In Ethics on April 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I have some reservations in discussing ethics, as I have found it a highly problematic area to discuss in the field of ‘doing good’. I have found people to have strong views at times about what is ethical; views that sometimes stifle open exploration.  At other times, I have observed people become defensive when raising the topic of ethics, as if by raising an issue I am making an assumption that they are unethical.

Ethics strikes at the core of what we determine to be good, fair and right. My sense is that deep down, most people strive to be good and fair, and therefore an explicit exploration of ethics brings to the surface peoples intentions and also holds a mirror up to their actions. Sometimes there can be a disconnect between intention and actions.  I don’t mean this in a judgemental sense; I too have had numerous occasions where the gaps between my intentions and actions have been highlighted in dilemmas I have faced. I have felt first hand that deep regret and disappointment that comes when I have realised that I have at times acted in ways that are not in accordance with my deeper intentions for doing good*.

Exploring ethics takes courage, humility and a whole lots of forgiveness. It takes courage because we need to be prepared to stay present in what are sometimes difficult situations. When difficulties arise, people have varying ways of responding – flight being one of them. To be courageous can often mean to be vulnerable. The part of us  that wants to self-protect needs to become conscious and stay open and stay present. Read the rest of this entry »