Tag Archives: ethics

Real World Ethics

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My ongoing examination of leadership and community dynamics in this blog dovetails nicely with teaching ethics classes at Cherry Hill Seminary. I never imagined teaching an ethics course, but was asked to step in mid-semester four years ago when a faculty change left the Boundaries and Ethics class without a professor.

That year I played catch-up, learning the material while teaching it and facilitating class discussions. As an educator this is never a comfortable position to be in, but I found that I loved the topic and kept studying after the class was over. Since then I have taught the class twice, each time making minor improvements in the curriculum. Now I think I am ready to do a full-scale revamping of the course.

But first we need a good basic text.

The course needs to bridge historical and modern Pagan thought on ethics, and present methodologies for making ethical decisions in chaplaincy, pastoral, and community settings. I want my students to start with their personal (both observed and first-hand) experiences with Pagan leadership, community and group dynamics, filter it through a study of ethical criteria and guidelines developed by various religious and secular organizations, and come up with a code of conduct for themselves going forward in their private and professional lives.

Make an Ethical Difference

I have been scouring the market for books to use the next time I teach the course, and am happy to report that we have a new front-runner! Mark Pastin’s new book Making an Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action is a great introduction to thinking ethically in difficult situations.

Pastin, CEO of the Council of Ethical Organizations, draws on his experience as advisor to corporations and NGOs worldwide to shape the book, starting each chapter with a new dilemma and using it to illustrate how to think about similar situations. Make an Ethical Difference presents five tools for sharpening your ethical sense:

  1. Read the Ground Rules
  2. Reason Backward to Find the Interests
  3. Face the Facts 
  4. Stand in the Shoes
  5. The Global Benefit Approach

While these are excellent practices for making our own ethical choices, applying them to a situation with multiple parties involved is much trickier. Fortunately, Pastin has what he calls “The Convergence Process,” designed “to increase the alignment of the ethics eyes of those directly involved in a situation requiring action.” In other words, getting people to share outlooks and be willing to change their views—including your own. It is a powerful approach involving transparency and great communication skills.

A book like this is the perfect guide to keep nearby when the inevitable occurs and humans get into conflicts. I will be referring to it myself in the months to come, taking Pastin’s tools for a test drive in my current ethics class and out in the real world as well.

Meanwhile, does anybody have other favorite ethics texts to recommend?

Toward a New Pagan Ethics

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I’ve got to hand it to Jason over at the Wild Hunt Blog, he does not shy away from the tough issues. In response to this horrific story, Jason raises a concern many of us share about the decentralized nature of nature-based spirituality:

A vast percentage of modern Pagans aren’t part of any established group, or are members of groups and traditions so small they hardly count as “established” on any national or even regional scale. This creates a culture where we tend to ascribe a certain amount of legitimacy to any individual practitioner as a common courtesy, which creates fertile grounds for those who want to abuse that trust. I’m not saying we should stop trusting, or that everyone should join a national organization if they want to be taken seriously, only that our decentralized nature makes us uniquely vulnerable to con-men and monsters.

It also makes our organizations susceptible to undue influence by the attention-seekers, power-mongers and loosely-tethered personalities among us. This has been an issue in Reclaiming for decades, and also to some degree in organizations such as COG and Cherry Hill Seminary. If you are a small group trying to do a big thing, you need all the helpers and volunteers you can find. The common courtesy that Jason describes goes a long way toward explaining why we give difficult people the benefit of the doubt, instead of questioning their motives and making sure they don’t wield undue influence in the group.

I have seen many a well-intentioned group grind to an absolute halt by the dissention and ill-will caused by a single individual. In response to the current case, Jason is putting out the call:

What can we do about it? Along with a culture of love and trust, we also need to create a culture of responsibility and frankness about what will and will not be tolerated within our communities, and make in known to the wider world.

Having been through this in recent years, trying through our local teacher’s guild to establish standards for ethics and transparency in the international Reclaiming camp network, I wish him well. One thing that process taught me is that no matter how long the process takes, it is a very good thing to have ethics and standards on the front burner in our various subcultures. The longer it is up for debate, the more reasonable people will come to realize that holding ourselves accountable to an ethical code is not a loss of freedom, it is a gain of maturity, and insurance that our group’s vision and goals may actually come to pass.