Ernesto Sirolli – Shut Up and Listen!

I just love this talk. It is perhaps one of the most important TED talks ever related to the field of ethics and doing good. Ernesto Sirolli’s work as an enterprise facilitator is well known around the world. In this talk he shares both his early experiences in what doesn’t work in Africa, as well as his work with entrepreneurs in Australia and beyond.

There are many great lessons in this, but I just love his 2 principles of:

  1. Never Initiate Anything
  2. Never Motivate Anyone

Your job is to simply shut up and listen!

Euthanize Your Business Today!

Are you concerned that your business or non-profit is not having the impact it intended?
Do you worry about forced closure and the ethical impacts it might have?
Has your market shifted so dramatically that your business is irretrievable?
Are you seeking an exit strategy that provides dignity and respect to all your stakeholders?

These are some of the many questions that business people and non-profit leaders ask when they come to Business Euthanization Services Inc (BESi) for advice. Over the past decade, we have seen dramatic shifts in markets and a sharp rise in the number of businesses forced to close. So often the final years and months of a business’s life is riddled with pain, stress and significant negative impact on its stakeholders.

Our research has shown that this was not due to poor intention on behalf of the business owner. So often business owners end up feeling shame and regret from the impacts of closure. At BESi we know that this can all be avoided through thorough prior planning and conscious leadership. This is what we like to call: conscious closure.

BESi was founded in 2012 to help business owners and leaders approach the matter of business closure in a way that brings dignity, compassion and respect to all people involved. BESi has a generous and wise team of associates who are able to support you and your closure needs in a way that honors your highest ethical intentions. Our services include: Read more

Speaking truth to power

Over the past few years I have worked with and met a number of social entrepreneurs. I have been struck by how many have come into the work that they do through perceiving injustice, inequity or inefficiency elsewhere. Most social entrepreneurs I know are not new to ‘doing good’ – it is in their blood. For many they have committed their lives and been working for years trying different approaches to creating change or making a better world.

A striking number have recounted to me experiences they have had in previous jobs at non-profit organisations or the corporate sector where they perceived a genuine problem. The problems people have shared have been very diverse, including misaligned strategy, poor spending, workplace bullying, mismanagement, ego-based leadership and perhaps most alarmingly, an unwillingness to listen to contrary or negative feedback. Sometimes these problems create harmful organisations or programs, and other times just keep the organisation in a place of mediocrity; locked away from fully achieving greatness or their mission.

Many social entrepreneurs I have come across have actually first attempted to create change, innovate or establish new initiatives within these existing organisations. They have often experienced the resistance that comes from a system trying to protect itself, and not allowing new information to come in. Many have also experienced not being heard when trying to express counter views or challenge authority when they witness unethical behaviour in leadership.

I could not even count how many people I know who have felt that they have had no other option than to leave the organisation as they have been unable to create change there. In some cases, their departure has not been their choice. The information and perceptions they have had and were unable to share would have potentially saved the Read more

Freebirthing and the ethics of judgement

In many ways ethics can be about making judgements or assessment about what is right or wrong, good or bad. But are all judgements the same?

Recently there has been an ongoing story in the press about a mother who lost her child in during a freebirth. This event was naturally a deeply tragic one for her and her family, despite the apparent non-recognition of this in the news. The coroner’s inquest and associated media coverage was a rampage of judgement to condemn this mother for what had occurred for her.

What amazed me was the total lack of compassion for the mother and her loss. As if losing her child was not enough pain, a number of people saw it best to condemn her for it. This ‘double punishment’ seemed to be built on the principle that judgement and condemnation is the perfect right of anyone, and there are no situations by which judgement should be tempered with empathy or compassion.

In our modern world, we have a tendency to judge all matters with a scientific lens, as if all matters are purely scientific. Birthing seems to have become a medical procedure rather than a rite of passage or important life event. Is it though? Should we really boil all things down to simple scientific views. Life has far greater complexities that warrant looking beyond simplistic viewpoints, binary answers, or clear cut rights or wrongs. And just because we were all born once, does that make us experts in making determinations about how others should give birth?

It it not surprising that we are so good at judgement. Despite mainstream spiritual teachings being grounded in compassion and love, contemporary interpretations often speak of a ‘judgmental’ God or Read more

Ethics and reincarnation

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 more

Social media ethics and the limits of Facebook

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 more

A not so lonely planet: the ethics of international volunteering

I’m sure this topic has been explored and written about extensively, and I’m keen to find other views on the ethical dimensions of this field. I was recently pitched a business idea by a young woman who was keen to take the staff of private sector companies to developing countries to volunteer in orphanages.

This was going to be a self-funded private enterprise with all profits going to her and her business partner. Her motivations seemed honourable in the sense that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children in Cambodia. This was a business proposition though, and she had done her homework on the potential size of the market. From her pitch, her business interests came ahead of the interests of the communities she sought to serve.

From what I had understood, she had been to Cambodia but didn’t have a background in international development. I am not suggesting that experience in international development is the best way to understand how ‘doing good’ in other countries work – I do know of other individuals and organisations who have taken a great deal of time and care to learn about Cambodia and build relationships there. I do wonder however if she appreciated or understood the cultural, social, economic and political dimensions of working in the ‘developing’ world.

There is also the dimension of volunteering itself. While at first glance it my feel warm and fuzzy to volunteer and be surrounded by such generous and appreciative children, there is the question of: who are you actually serving? Read more

Ethics without anger or taking sides

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 more

What’s your hidden curriculum?

In education there is a term called the hidden curriculum, which refers to unintended outcomes or lessons taught in the classroom. These mostly encompass the soft stuff like values, beliefs, behaviours and norms that are transmitted through the social environment or the behaviour of the educator.

As a teacher a number of years ago, I was very familiar with the intended curriculum – those activities purposefully designed to bring about certain learning. There was an active process of designing lessons to do this. I was also conscious of how I used space and acted to bring about lessons. Despite all of this, I was still struck when students would tell me what they learned from me or a lesson, and I would be surprised to hear stuff that I was not actually conscious of doing or remembered occurring. These were at times positive lessons, and other times negative experiences. It was striking how so many of the most deeply memorable learning experiences where not from the ‘intentional curriculum’, but from the ‘hidden curriculum’ of the teacher.

Now, this all sounds like a fairly harmless thing if one has a bit of awareness and some emotional intelligence to deal with this stuff. The concept of a hidden curriculum can have a darker side though. An example of a more negative expression is when a school promotes inclusiveness while structuring its classrooms by ranking students according to ability or performance. Research has shown that relationships that are structured and modeled within the classroom can transfer to outside of the classroom. These norms have been seen to influence social groupings Read more

Cultural constellations (and a marriage) of change

Today I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Mike and Rosie Kennedy. Mike is Australian born, and Rosie of Maori heritage. They have been married for a number of years and lived in both Australia and New Zealand. As changemakers and community leaders, they have had to grapple with and understand each other and the world through the lenses of their different cultures.

Mike shared some interesting stories about first going into cultural situations in New Zealand and needing to learn quickly around how to talk, how to LISTEN, and how to behave. He talked about learning aspects of Maori spirituality and language. While we live so closely in the world, there are some strong distinctions in how community works, and how leadership and change happens.

Mike shared how when he first landed in New Zealand so many years ago, he was reading Machiavelli’s The Prince. This classic text talks about an approach to changemaking based on power, politics, corruption and violence; glorifying the ethical maxim that the “end justifies the means”. Mike described how surreal it was to be reading this philosophy while being introduced to such a contrasting view of how power and community can work.

According to Rosie and Mike, the Maori way has its own sense of power. It is a spiritual and cultural way of being in the world deeply rooted to land and water, to family and community. While we didn’t unpack ethics in relation to Maori culture, Read more