Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Only Way Is Ethics

Sometimes it's the little things that stay with you as much as the big. 

Like a few years ago there was a small news item on our local news: it couldn't have been more than five minutes long, and yet I can't quite shake it from my memory.

The story was about a six year old boy who'd been banned from his local school because of his constant disruptive behavior.  The act that had finally got him barred was when he had lashed out at and hit a teacher.

And so the news cameras had gone around to the parent's house to interview the parents.  There was no sign of a father figure and the mother was sitting in the front of the shot, smoking and clearly wanting to get back to whichever soap opera she had been watching.  The six year old kid was sat in the background laughing and playing on his playstation: clearly as happy as Larry that he no longer had to go to school.

The journalist asked the mother, "Why do you think he behaves this way?"

She shrugged, 'It's not my fault if he's evil, is it?'

So there it is: a single, highly depressing moment of Television reminding us that a hell of a lot of parents out there just don't seem to be aware of the impact of their actions on their kids.

It was a comment by Michael of Always Going, Going, Going On Beyond that reminded me again of this news item.  He was talking about his own fears that the school his child was going to were not necessarily evaluating his children's progress sufficiently to help them prepare for the world outside and, in a response to a comment, he said "we need a new subject: morals and ethics. They could talk about all the religions and have debates about tricky decisions (e.g., should the government support smoking -- by allowing it to be sold -- while at the same time encouraging us to avoid it). It's clear the many parents are not offering this knowledge to their children."

Children are not born into this world with an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong.  They are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge and experience and it is no single factor that defines this, but a series of experiences.  Although parents cannot be the sole source of information for a child they can at least be the steady thermometer against which they measure the temperature of how to act.  A parent who is unable to distinguish right from wrong is unlikely to teach their child the same.

So perhaps it is time that we involve parents more in the process of their child's education.  Perhaps we should teach morals and ethics, not only in school but in classes involving the parents?  We as adults are no more born knowing how to be a good parent than we are born knowing how to be a good person.  Any person can, providing they can find a willing sexual partner, go out and have kids and raise them pretty much any way they want to.  Would interfering with this to enable parents to teach their kids right from wrong lead to complaints of a "nanny state", or is this something that we all need to learn?

For my own part I was recently asked "If you were able to perform a single act and have no consequences: what would you do?"

After some thought I replied that there are always consequences: the main one being that you, as a person, still have to be able to live with your actions, to be able to look yourself in the mirror.  I quoted Shakespeare, "to thine own self be true" and thought about the words of Ghandi when he said "Be the change you want to see in the world"

I wonder what the mother of that kid would have said?


Anonymous said...

Why would she say anything? She already lives a life of acting without caring about the consequences.

I agree that ethics and morals need to be taught, but that now raises the question of who will teach them? Who - meaning whose perception of morals and ethics do we trust?

Parents and children like that mother and boy are absolutely angering. Reprimand for hitting that teacher should definitely come from somewhere if not the parent.

Michael said...

Anyone could teach the class, but it would have to be non-religious. That is unattached to any particular religion. It's not about religion. It's about what all religions teach: right and wrong, love instead of hate.

Titus said...

I like the idea, but maybe not for the reason you propose.

To be caring and responsible, someone has to have exhibited some care and responsibility for you. The 'big' society, in general, doesn't give a shit for the lost individuals until they riot. Mother in question doesn't make me angry, just very sad. I don't think a class in morals and ethics is going to solve her problems.

I leave, feeling like a jug of cold water.

Argent said...

I think, as Titus has pointed out, if the mother has not received any kind of moral framework in her life, she is simply not equipped to pass it on to her kids.

Plato believed in the Republic that kids should be raised communally by appropriate persons - perhaps there's something in that.

Ideally, though, prents should start kids down the right road and school follow up and explore the more complex issues fo morality.

Does make you fear for the future though.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Samurai - ah quis custodet ipsos custodeat?

I think the point wouldn't necessarily be to teach them a single point of morality as sanctioned by any specific person, but to at least give them the ability to ask such questions as part of every day life and come to their own conclusions

Michael - i'm not sure you could cut religion entirely out of it. Many things are done in the name of religion that could be considered morally questionable

Titus - yes it is true that the likelihood of someone having had a bad experience as a child recreating the sins of the parents is high, but i don't think that means we should just abandon them and assume we can't do anything to help them or the next generation

You are probably right and there is a certain amount of doubt as to how much, or if at all, you should interfere in someone else's life

Argent - part of the point i was making was that it could be possible to re-educate parents as part of the giving birth process, not just dump a kid on someone and say "sort it out for yourself" - even if all that amounts to is a focus group of parents facing similar problems

Your point about "appropriate" brings me back to Samurai's question - who do we consider appropriate?

The Bug said...

I really do think it starts with parental education. But then all those children whose parents WEREN'T educated need to be taught too. But you know it would never fly because everyone has a different idea of what's moral. Even the Golden Rule, which should seem self-evident, is disputed by some people (I haven't read it, but I assume Atlas Shrugged is refuting the Golden Rule).

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Bug as someone (oh, alright, so it was Obi Wan Kenobi) once said "you're going to find that a lot of the truths you cling to depend largely on a certain point of view"

I do think there are certain things that we, as a society, have agreed - sometimes in law - are morally acceptable, but what i'm trying to suggest isn't so much that a person or persons teaches you what is morrally acceptable, but teaches you the ability to question it yourself

Mark p.s.2 said...

The innocent child pays the cost.
The child is drugged into tranquility, the tranquility is "good" behavior.

Society will soon see the results of all the children "helped" by medications, medications that in reality are legal drugs.

"May you live in interesting times." ancient curse.

Friko said...

I am not sure that you could teach morals and ethics.
You'd have to teach a course defining the terms first.

I'd much rather see a class that teaches people to be responsible for themselves, that teaches people that they have rights but also duties, and that nothing in life comes without their active involvement.

The mother you quoted is one of mankind's blind spots; I doubt you could reach her.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Mark - so are you saying that we should, in fact, just abandon morals and good behaviour? Or just that drug addled stupor is taking the place of teaching kids how to behave?

Friko - yes teaching people about social responsbilities would have to be included

Mark p.s.2 said...

Regarding "What do you mean?"
I mean to say "drug addled stupor is taking the place of teaching kids"
click here
[November 20, 2011
Drugs Used for Psychotics Go to Youths in Foster Care

Foster children are being prescribed cocktails of powerful antipsychosis drugs just as frequently as some of the most mentally disabled youngsters on Medicaid, a new study suggests.

The report, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, is the first to investigate how often youngsters in foster care are given two antipsychotic drugs at once, the authors said. The drugs include Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa — among other so-called major tranquilizers — which were developed for schizophrenia but are now used as all-purpose drugs for almost any psychiatric symptoms.]