Friday, April 6, 2012

Doing Things You Don't Want To Do

This week in my classroom, I asked my students to chew on this question:
When and why should you do things you don't want to do?  It's a pretty deep ethical question when you come right down to it.

The reasons my students gave centered on these basics:  To get something or become better at something (positive consequences), to stay out of trouble (avoid negative consequences), and "because it's the right thing to do" (moral implications).

We also talked about times when you don't want to do something and you shouldn't do it.  For example, a friend tries to get you to tease or exclude someone.  You might not want to do it, but you might be worried that your friend will get mad at you if you don't do it.  Once again, the decision revolves around positive consequences, negative consequences, and moral implications.

I asked this question in class because it seems like a lot of students value doing what they want above all else, simply because it's what they want to do.  Likewise, they value avoiding things they don't want to do just because they don't want to do them.  They seem to think this is okay.

I don't want to sound like an old fogey, but we're not doing anyone any favors if we pretend you can get through life by avoiding the things you don't want to do.  Sometimes, you have to do stuff you don't want to do so you can reach a goal that you really DO want.  Sometimes, life throws tough stuff at you and you have to do something you don't want to do in order to survive and take care of your family.  You have to weigh the negative consequences (what bad things might happen), the positive gain (what good things might happen) and the ethical or moral implications (is it right or wrong?).

A conversation like this with a group of 8-10 year olds is a powerful, powerful thing.  It makes me believe in the human spirit every time we wrestle with the big questions in my class.  And if a group of 8-10 year olds can get to the heart of this matter, why can't more adults?  Wall Street, for example, or politicians?  Ethics 101.

When have you had to do something you didn't want to do?  Did you do it?  Why or why not?  Was it the right thing to do?  How do you know?  (Ooh!  Good follow-up question for my class:  How do you know right from wrong?)

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