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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Fostering Ethics Requires Practice & Mindfulness for All Ages (Guest Post: Jennifer Sertl)

David Giambusso wrote a terrific article regarding the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to New Jersey where there was a focus on the value of ethics in education. “Education without ethics can be just as bad as ignorance.”

I am thankful the Dalai Lama’s visit brings the concept of “how do we teach ethics?” to the table. What a wonderful time to include teachers, students, parents, and business people to foster conscientiousness. Being ethical is not an acquired skill set “out there.” It is an internal sense of what is right, what is wrong. We are constantly faced with ethical decisions moment to moment, day to day. We have teachable moments in the midst of daily life.

Here are some examples of questions I have asked both my ten year old daughter at the dinner table and some business clients in the boardroom as recently as last week:

  • If you had a chance to do anything differently this week, what would you do and why would you do it?
  • When you make choices this week, did any of them make you feel a tingle in your stomach? If so, what did that sensation feel like and why do you suppose you had it?
  • Think of a regret of something you wish you hadn’t done. Now that time has passed and you have more wisdom–were there choices available to you that you didn’t see at that time?
  • What is the nicest thing you have every done for someone? Where did the idea to do that come from? How did it make you feel?
  • What movie have you seen or book that you read that the character was faced with a difficult decision? Did you agree with their choice or would you have made another choice?

Hopefully you can see the theme here. People don’t put on an “ethics” hat an all of a sudden have more wisdom. We just need to take pause, reflect and be asked to reflect. This practice allows us to articulate how we make decisions and explore where more choices might be available in the future. I do believe ethics can be taught. Whether it is the dinner table or the class room questions as simple as these can support our ability to reinforce our own inner wisdom as well as help others around us reflect.

Making wiser and more compassionate decisions is a “a moment to moment” practice across all disciplines.

Wishing you clarity and wisdom as you model the world you hope to create,

Jennifer Sertl
Co-author Strategy Leadership & the Soul

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7 thoughts on “Fostering Ethics Requires Practice & Mindfulness for All Ages (Guest Post: Jennifer Sertl)

  1. Excellent question. I think we teachers leave some our own choices unexamined during the day, so it’s difficult to imagine finding time to let students explore their own ethics. It’s easier to tell them what in their behavior is right sand wrong in our eyes.

    In my head, I have a half-dozen or so different kinds of years I would like to try out as curricula. I frequently think about teaching and learning with Little Big Minds. I’ll think on this again for next year in response to your post, Jennifer – thank you.

    What are some of the topics you think would be most engaging and effective for kids to deal with at different ages or levels of readiness?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 16, 2011, 8:23 pm
  2. Thanks for taking time to respond. Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day was the most impactful short – story I have every read. I read it in 8th grade and couldn’t get the feeling of isolation for Margo out of my mind.

    I think students/kids are more aware and capable than we may think.

    The goal is to take your current classes and content and just be mindful of what to ask under the surface. Why did they select certain answers? What might they choose differently from the beginning of the year and now that they know more their perspective has changed?

    Simple questions that are a layer deeper than the surface.

    My reference points now are my 10 year old and 14 year old and the books they are reading and Newberry are full of relevant scenarios that we talk about. Somehow it is easier to objectify a third person — so it allows us to be braver in our candor etc.

    Mindfulness will lead you to the questions.
    Thanks for all that you do!

    Posted by Jennifer Sertl | May 16, 2011, 8:46 pm
  3. Hey Jenn,

    What if a teacher’s workplace does not allow him or her to be ethical, in the deep sense that you suggest? If the institution is geared to achieving its own ends, often at the expense of those with the least voice within it (students), and teachers are encouraged to be complicit in this “bargain,” what do you recommend teachers do about it? Adults are called on to violate the interests of kids in school all the time?

    What do you think right action looks like, from this vantage point?

    Thank you,


    Posted by Kirsten | May 17, 2011, 2:42 pm
    • Kirsten,
      Thank you for such a real question. To honor the intensity & depth of the question–I would like a sleep cycle to gather my thoughts on how to best respond.

      I will respond 1st thing tomorrow with not a solution but some perspective that I hope contributes to progress.

      I hear you,

      Posted by Jennifer Sertl | May 17, 2011, 6:58 pm
  4. Dear Kristin,

    You question was poignant. Here is an imperfect, but heartfelt response:

    The first thing that comes to mind is what can you do to take better care of yourself?
    I always tell people that if they want to change the world-they just need to begin changing their life in some subtle way. I believe micro-shifts create macro-impact. So, I’d begin with self care. It might be just getting a “spot of quiet.” It might be taking a 30 minute walk a day. It might be writing in a journal. But there is something here about self preservation. Many of the care takers I know have the best intentions but often forget to design themselves into their lives. How will you oxygenate the world if you can’t breathe. And yes, teachers are care takers. You are absorbing the weight of the world and curating our next generation.

    The next thing that I believe will make impact is allowing yourself permission to do what you can. Many people with great intentions see things as black/white, working/not-working, collaborative/rigid. I write about transorganizations and transleaders in Strategy Leadership & the Soul. I have never met a perfect person or a perfect company. People and organizations are dynamic. I would put my focus on where there is sunlight. Seek to find “what is working.” I know you will find more and more things that are making progress. And the more you focus on that-the more you will see things expand.

    You may be saying, Jennifer, you are not answering my question. I agree. But I cannot create impact with you if you do not see your self and your environment with different eyes.

    I am reminded of Viktor Frankls Man’s Search for Meaning and his curiosity during the holocaust. He wondered why even in the same conditions some died and some were able to find inner resilience. He found that the will to make a difference and a belief that making a difference was possible was vital for survival. I remind you of this body of work as I suspect you are making a bigger difference than you think you are. The way you talk, the way you ask, the way you give the students eye contact. You are doing more than you think you are to foster ethics and respect. Don’t underestimate that. Don’t experience what you wish you could do as a gap. Experience trust in all that you are doing to make a difference. Another fantastic resource for this is Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility. His “exuberance” is contagious :

    I truly believe with keeping these concepts front and center–you are going to find additional wisdom and awareness to ask a deeper question, feel a greater sense of progress, and model with confidence that even with rigid boundaries – cultivating mindfulness is what you do with ease and joy.

    I will continue to ponder your resonate question and look for more ways I might be helpful to all leaders across disciplines in helping people appreciate how powerful small acts of courage change our future.


    Posted by Jennifer Sertl | May 18, 2011, 6:45 am
  5. Jenn, I often need sleep to get with a question too!

    Posted by Kirsten | May 18, 2011, 9:49 am
  6. A colleague Elizabeth Doty wrote a book called The Compromise Trap.
    Here is an exept that might be useful in the context of this convo:
    “10 Misconceptions about Compromise”

    Posted by Jennifer Sertl | May 18, 2011, 3:26 pm

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