Key Definitions – Ethics is the study of values and of how we ought to live. It denotes systematic, rational reflection upon a particular behavior.
– Values are defined as standards or ideals that serve as guides or standards by which we live and make decisions.
– Morals are modes of conduct—practical applications of ethical principles.
Ethical Controversies – Ethical controversies are dilemmas based on complex situations in which rendering a decision or action is difficult because different people, based on their principles and values, can view the situation differently. Challenging youth to think about ethical controversies is a great way to promote personal growth, because it requires reflections on the teachings of family, religious leaders, teachers, and others as they consider different points of view and strive to understand why they think and feel the way they do.
Ethical controversy discussions can be used to explore ethical standards and dilemmas that apply to the interest areas of your unit’s members. The activities can be staged as single activities during one unit meeting, or the unit can explore the ethical issues in depth over several meetings.
Ethical judgments are a part of every profession, hobby, and recreational activity, as well as every relationship. Pose these questions, and others like them, for thought and discussion about relationships or interest areas within your unit.
- Should it be legal for a police officer to take a second job?
- What do you do when your boss does something illegal?
- Is it right to refuse jury duty?
- When is censorship OK?
Discussions based on questions like these can help your unit tackle tough issues in an interesting, organized, and active way. The questions themselves can easily be adapted to your particular interests.
Fanon’s quote underscores the importance of rational discussion and the value of helping youth learn through participation in ethical controversies. A respectful conversation can show that there are two sides to most questions and that the gray area between right and wrong is sometimes difficult to define. It also provides the opportunity for participants to learn to understand and respect both sides of an argument and to keep emotions in check when responding to a point with which they disagree.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR PRESENTING ETHICAL CONTROVERSIES
Ethical controversies are dilemmas without easy answers, dilemmas in which each side might have valid arguments. The following situation is an example.
You have been summoned for jury duty in your county. One of the cases on the docket is the well-publicized prosecution of a man for a series of assaults that occurred within a 5-mile radius of your house. These were especially brutal crimes that occurred over several months. The assailant entered the open windows of the homes of the victims and assaulted and robbed them. Because you live in the area where the robberies occurred and where the defendant lives, you are concerned about your safety during and after the trial. You also are concerned about your ability to be entirely fair and objective as a juror. Your choices (position statements) are as follows:
- To avoid any possibility of revenge or intimidation, you ask to be excused from participation on the jury – or –
- You serve on the jury anyway since you believe it is your civic and moral obligation to serve, and that attempting to avoid jury duty would be shirking your responsibility.
To use the above opposing positions as learning activities for your unit, follow these instructions.
Organize the Activity
Divide the troop into groups of four Scouts each. If possible, divide into groups so that Scouts work with people they don’t know very well.
Divide each group of four into two groups of two. Give each pair a copy of a position statement. Be sure to assign the pairs opposing sides. It does not matter whether the participants agree with their assigned position.
Conduct the Activity
An ethical controversy activity has five simple steps. Describe and conduct them one at a time. Allow enough time to complete each step before moving on. All groups of four should work on each step at the same time. The entire activity takes from 45 minutes to two hours.
- Learn the position. With your partner, develop as many arguments as possible to support your assigned position. You also can work with a pair from another group that has the same topic and position.
- Present your position. Present your arguments to the other pair. In turn, listen closely to their position, making sure you understand their arguments. Clarify your understanding by restating what others say.
- Discuss the issue. Defend your position and critique the opposition. Try to persuade the opposing pair that you are correct; then listen to their defense and critique. Remember to be
critical of ideas, not people.
- Reverse positions. Switch positions with the other pair. Take a few minutes with your partner to review your new position. Present and defend your new position as if you really believed in it.
- Try to reach consensus. Work toward finding a position that all four believe is the correct one. This may be a position already discussed or a completely new one. Change your mind only when you are convinced by rational arguments.
After the activity is over, discuss it as a large group. Ask each group of four how they arrived at their final position. Compare the positions chosen and the arguments used to support them. Reflect on the process, discussing both the activity and how group members related with each other.