Over the past couple of weeks I have been giving a lot of thought to the issues of integrity that Carey wrote about last week. Personal integrity is a challenge that increasingly affects not only academics, but also practice and research. And, this is at the core of what we are seeking to address in the Nurse Manifest Project. So this deserves lots of attention, and I hope that folks will get involved in some of this discussion!
In this post I want to lay some groundwork for things I will write about over the next several days and weeks — ways that we can work toward change, and interrupt ways that we are (often unknowingly) complicit.
Years ago I read Nel Noddings wonderful book “Women and Evil,” which has provided a grounding for me in thinking through issues like this one. (You can “look inside” this book on Amazon.com!). Noddings challenges the notions that western cultures have acquired from the judeo-christian perspective on evil — those ideas alone are well worth getting into her book.
But the ideas from her work that are most pertinent to our discussion about integrity has to do with her alternative view of “evil.” Noddings defines “evil” as anything that harms someone. She bases her view on the premise that evil does exist, and that as humans we are all both perpetrators and victims. We are also all both perpetrators and beneficiaries of the best intentions of all humans — the things we do that nurture and sustain one another. But where evil is concerned, she conceptualized three kinds of evil, each calling for a different kind of “ethical” response.
The first is natural evil – things that happen that are beyond any person’s control – earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, as recent examples. Any of us can be victimized, and the response that is required from all of us is to help those who are affected with as much compassion and caring as is humanly possible.
The second is cultural evil – things that are ingrained in the culture and that do, or can do great harm to people – racism, heterosexism, mysogyny, classism, to name a few. Aside from these “isms,” there are also practices that are institutionalized in governments and organizations that sustain injustice and harm, but that go unchallenged because of the assumption that this is the way things are. All of us are victims or perpetrators in any number of cultural evils, even if we do not want to be. The ethical response to this kind of evil is to recognize it, and participate as little as possible, and to help those who are victimized by any form of cultural evil. I will come back to this form of evil because it is central to what I want to discuss.
The third form of evil is intentional – the things that people do intentionally to harm others. Obviously we are all capable of doing these kinds of things but ethical comportment calls forth our highest intentions not to do so; as a culture, we are all obligated to stop perpetrators and to insist on the kinds of social interventions that call forth justice for those who commit intentional crimes, and to care for those who are victims.
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii, we were taught that we were to become change agents … but in fact, little has changed where personal integrity is concerned since those days. And in fact, some would claim that the situation has become worse. Regardless, it is time for those of us who are thinking about these issues to seriously consider constructive alternatives in the direction of change and to become real change agents.
We need some very creative thinking about how we can participate as little as possible in the dynamics of the cultural evils of things like cheating, writing for hire, etc. I believe that those of us who teach actually perpetrate these practices by the traditional practices that we engage in day in and day out. For example, when we give exams, especially exams that are proctored and administered under great stress in a highly competitive environment, we are setting up the perfect ground for which to inspire students to engage in practices that we call “cheating.” If we step back from the situation, we might instead view many of their approaches to dealing with the situation as creative, clever, and sometimes even wise! What we are teaching in this situation is not the content of the exam, but rather, ways of coping with a highly stressful environment so that success is more probably than failure.
So what are we to do? The first thing that I think we need to examine is “what am I really doing in this situation?” “Are my actions congruent with my intentions [to teach content, to promote learning, to nurture a stable and productive staff]?” “What are the unintended consequences of my actions?”
I do not have answers, but I do have suggestions and I hope that some of my ideas will prompt others to share yours as well. I will share specific suggestions in the days to come. My suggestions come from ideas that others have developed and some that I have developed and used (that have also been successful — I won’t mention the ones that have flopped!). So stay tuned … this is enough for today!