Listening to the radio while driving this morning, I heard an ad for a college, a key anchor point being that all their degrees have required ethics courses. At risk of showing my age ;), when I took my first two degrees ethics courses were not even offered, let alone required.
For some reason, I quickly strung a series of ideas together as to how we’ve arrived at this point. The ‘trigger’ likely being the book I am currently reading, “Winning the Story Wars,” by Jonah Sachs.
In Winning the Story Wars, Jonah discusses how societal values have been passed across the generations through the art of story telling. The values we chose to adopt, the values driven into us by our parents, are often tied to the stories, the beliefs, the myths defining the core of our respective cultures.
For instance, consider Genesis 3:16:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and they conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and they desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
For two millennia, women followed the lead of their husbands. They ‘obeyed,’ adopted his beliefs, and followed his lead. It was necessary even for their survival. Then, Jonah points out, early in the 20th century, women began to express their own views, dared to show they thought for themselves. They came to realize that complete dependence on their husbands was no longer necessary for survival.
An early crux of this realization came in the form of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” (1920)
Women’s suffrage was but the first of many basic guide posts by which we framed social values…values becoming increasingly outpaced by other societal developments as the century progressed.
Myths, popular stories have long been used to convey beliefs and values from one generation to the next. Myths increasingly struggle to keep up with change. And, as society seems to accelerate away from their core tenets, they even start to be called into question themselves. Were they meant to be used as abstract lessons, or to be taken literally? This is a question for biblical scholars, for instance.
As society changes faster than the myths, stories, or legends around which we base our beliefs, we increasingly tend to abandon them as old, out dated, or just plain wrong…dare we even say ‘lies?’ This is where the key trigger took place for me as I listened to the radio.
In the U.S., we have long decried the decay of the ‘family unit’ for the failure of ethics in the workplace. After all, had parents not properly instilled values in their children in previous generations, would we be having all manner of corporate scandals and corruption that we have today? Would we even need ‘ethics courses?’ After all, that’s what our parents are to have taught us, right?
Would we even need ‘ethics courses?’
Consider this: As the basic guide posts by which we have framed social values are being outpaced by societal development, might it be that the very stories our families needed themselves, to be passed down to their offspring, no longer serve as bedrocks upon which to build?
If the very myths society has anchored itself around are no longer followed, might their values and ethics also no longer have a defined meaning, a place in our world? Might we be at risk of becoming a lost society? And, that is why we find ourselves needing ethics courses?