Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Four Human Tools... huh?

The "Seminar" curriculum today was a Right vs. Wrong, Choices Have Consequences sort of lesson. I've been curious to know how a completely secularized institution approaches this subject.

First thing was a rectangle divided up into sixteen separate smaller rectangles. Students were given two minutes to observe and then write down just how many rectangles they could see.

Then discussion questions: How many rectangles did you see immediately? How many did you see after you observed for a while? Why did you keep discovering more?

Then: Describe some situations where you would have to make a decision. List all the alternatives and the consequences for these choices. Are consequences always bad? What happens when we do not look at all the consequences? Who should have the final decision as to which alternative we choose? Why? Who is responsible for the decisions that you make? What comes first, a decision or an action? What impact could this have on the decisions we make and the actions we take?

Then students read a fictional story about some students who made poor decisions on a test day. The ensuing discussion was about cheating, and was there anything wrong with it.

I just thought it was fascinating; they really don't get to the nitty-gritty of where right and wrong come from and who gets to determine right from wrong, it's just assumed that everybody knows it.

The curriculum describes "Four Human Tools" that we each can utilize in our decision-making processes. They are:

1. Self-awareness -- I can stand apart from myself and observe my thought and action.
2. Conscience -- I can listen to my inner voice and know right from wrong. Each one of us has a conscience. It can either grow or shrink depending on whether or not we follow its prompting.
3. Imagination -- I can envision new possibilities, allowing us to escape our present circumstances and create new possibilities in our heads.
4. Willpower -- I have the power to choose, the power to act, to control our emotions and to overcome our habits and instincts.

So really, our CONSCIENCE is the one that determines right from wrong, that it's within all of us... and that each of us has the power to just decide we're going to overcome some habit or other, if we just exercise it.

I can see this as a lovely exercise in long-term disappointment for anyone who takes it seriously. Pure humanism... we have within ourselves the power to do it all. Blah blah blah. So what happens when we experience failure to overcome our bad habits? We suck as people, right? Those who DO overcome their bad habits, well, they get to be smug and look down on the rest of us. And what's to determine what a bad habit is? What if the thing you consider to be a bad habit ends up controlling me to the point that I am unable to overcome it?

Yes, I completely believe that we are responsible for our own stupidity and should suffer consequences for our choices. If I choose to smoke a pack of Luckys every day for fifty years, it should be no surprise to me when I develop emphysema, and I shouldn't then be able to turn around and blame the people who make ciggies. Everything we DO has possible negative ramifications, and it's just the way it is. We can't expect to be protected from all harm, and still lead fulfilling lives.

Anyway -- but because I failed to be able to quit smoking Luckys, that somehow makes me an inferior being... because we all have willpower, right?

Just wondering where this all leads. What happens in a situation where I really don't know what's right or wrong? Or whether both choices seem wrong? How do I call upon my conscience in a moment like that? The ultimate end would be that I would choose what seemed easiest at the time -- what seemed less painful for the moment. Right vs. Wrong then degenerates into What Makes Me The Least Uncomfortable.

I did the activity with the students, because it actually stays pretty generic and surface. However, if they'd've started taking them further down the road, I don't know if I would be able to teach that level of humanism... since it isn't true.

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