Ethics must be taught in our Schools to Stem the Tide of Rising Violence
I have been a frequent blogger about the need to teach ethics starting at the earliest of ages. Ethics is a skill that’s learned over time and with lots of practice. The ancient Greeks believed in virtue as the key to character development and leading a virtuous life would create well-being for an individual -- happiness. For me, when I make the ethical choice a good feeling surrounds my thoughts and I feel pride in my decision. It didn’t happen overnight for me and it won’t either for our young people so there must be education in the K-8 years to start the kids off on the right track.
The Dalai Lama recently gave a lecture, "Secular Ethics 101," during a visit to Emory University as part of his partnership with the school. In his latest book, "Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World," the exiled Tibetan leader writes of too much attention focused on material things while neglecting moral ethics and values.
The Dalai Lama said religions can play a role in addressing the moral crisis but religions are not as universally accepted as schools. Schools must teach students by embracing morality and incorporating ethics into their curriculum.
"We have to think seriously, deeply, how to change these negative states of mind," he told a crowd of several hundred gathered in a campus auditorium. "Ultimately the educational institution has the important work to do, to introduce new ways to approach education in a more complete way." He added schools have the responsibility to "take care of both the brain and the heart." Among key universal values that schools can instill are compassion, patience, honesty, self-discipline and generosity.
I strongly believe the recent incidents of random and senseless violence that has infected our society can be traced back to a lack of ethics education both in schools and at home. The number and variations of violence are increasing and more and more innocent people are losing their lives. Whether we look at the senseless killing of innocent youngsters, such as by Adam Lanza who killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School or the Columbine massacre, we are increasingly watching horrific events that affect all our lives and strike fear in the hearts of so many.
Whether we look at the workplace killing of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard, or Major Nidal Hasan, the former U.S. Army Medical Corps psychiatrist who fatally shot 13 people and injured more than 30 others in the Fort Hood mass shooting, more and more people are taking out their aggression at institutions and people that represent what they detest in this world. There is no self-control anymore. There are no considerations of the consequences of one’s behavior. There is no moral foundation to provide a buffer against such wanton actions.
I’m disappointed that many solutions are discussed including gun control, greater school security, more readily available psychological counseling, but the one tool that might make a difference is ignored – ethics education.
In my day, teachers were not afraid to teach right from wrong out of fear of upsetting someone or some group. We were held to strict standards of behavior. If you violated such standards a note when home to your parents or they were called to school. You can bet our parents didn’t ignore the warnings and just go about their daily lives. Ethical behavior was part of the culture of society in those times. We were influenced by each other’s sense of right and wrong and community values.
We’re all familiar with the causes of the decline in ethics in our society: gratuitous violence in movies; explicit sexually-charged videos on social media sites; and a lack of role models to emulate. We see seen people we look up to fall hard after the disclosure of an inappropriate action (i.e., Lance Armstrong, General Patraeus, Anthony Weiner). We have seen business leaders escape responsibility for the financial meltdown of 2008. And, we constantly watch in disgust as our nation’s “leaders” lead us down a path of eventual economic destruction.
In a speech at the Legatum Institute at a Symposium on Ethics for a More Prosperous World in London, UK, on October 23, 2012, the Dalai Lama pointed out that although the twentieth century saw immense achievements in science and technology, it was also an era of bloodshed and suffering. If the twenty-first century is to be different there needs to be a new approach to solving problems, which implies a new approach to ethics. His conclusion is that to promote change, education is most important. There is a need to promote fundamental human values, which, coupled with human intelligence, can be the basis for creating a better world.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 14, 2013