Midcoast ethicist discusses global rules for values

Posted Sept. 11, 2011, at 6:46 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 11, 2011, at 11:48 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — According to ethicist, journalist and author Rushworth Kidder, there are five rules of ethical behavior that hold true around the globe. Parents who can talk to their children about those rules will be more likely to raise good kids who know how to do the right thing, he told an audience Saturday afternoon at the Camden Public Library.

He ticked them off to the small but eager crowd.

“Honesty matters, responsibility matters, respect matter, fairness matters, and compassion matters,” Kidder said.

His new book, “Good Kids, Tough Choices: How Parents Can Help Their Children Do the Right Thing,” is the recipient of a 2011 Honors Award from the National Parenting Publications Awards Parenting Resources competition.

Through the Institute for Global Ethics, which he co-founded in Rockport in 1990, researchers have interviewed people everywhere about what being ethical means.

Kidder said all interviewed list those particular rules, regardless of nationality, whether they’re male or female, rich or impoverished, right or left wing, religious or not.

“This is very deep. This goes to the core of what’s human,” he said. “You don’t have to impose values. You can find them.”

And although children, and especially teenagers, can be gifted at arguing their viewpoint in any given situation — regardless of what parents or the ethical rules state — the values framework can be very helpful.

“By the time kids get into their middle years, right versus wrong is not enough,” Kidder said. “We’re talking about offering tools so people can investigate right versus wrong situations.”

He gave the example of a teenage girl who had promised to keep her friend’s severe eating disorder a secret but came to her guidance counselor in tears.

“Keeping a promise is enormously important. But so is trying to help a dying friend,” Kidder said. “These are tough right versus right dilemmas. We are not routinely tempted by right versus wrong. The really tough ones come when both sides are right.”

The ethicist said that when problems pop up, parents and children who can examine actions through the five ethical rules are likely to hit upon helpful solutions. He also discussed the importance of moral courage, or the willing endurance of “significant danger” for the sake of principle.

“Unless we’re willing to stand for conscience, having good values and making good decisions comes to nothing,” he said. “We can do a lot more with our kids in talking to them about the nature of moral courage.”

Kidder said that many of these conversations, and establishment of ethical standards, won’t bear fruit immediately. The waiting might also necessitate moral courage.

“We may have to wait a couple of decades to see the reward, but that’s OK,” he said.

For information, visit www.globalethics.org.

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