Is stealing wrong? Is lying to your parents unethical? Is cheating wrong?
Do we intuitively know the answer to these ‘universal’ questions that help make up our set of values or ethics? Are we even aware that these answers represent our philosophical beliefs about the world?
Recently BORDERLESS was asked to be involved with the first ever Centre of Ethics to be introduced into a New Zealand school, at Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland. BORDERLESS Director and Dio old girl, Qiujing Wong, presented to the school on two occasions in March and April to mark the opening of the Centre with Patron, Dame Sian Elias (Chief Justice of New Zealand).
We had to think about how the rich topic of ethics could be explained to a diverse group of 5-17 year old girls! Yet, in it’s simplest form, from the day we are born, we are taught what’s good and bad, right and wrong, and for young children, this is presented as ‘fairness’. Is it fair that I take all the lollies and leave none for anyone else? Is it fair to copy someone else’s assignment and say it was mine? In fact, we ended up teaching ourselves a lot out of this simplification of the concept of right and wrong. So we thought that it would be worth sharing with you – no matter your age!
Ethics, or fairness, involves asking ourselves a set of questions to get to a point where we can make decisions that are good, just, and fair.
What’s right? What’s wrong?
The first step to figuring out whether something is fair, is to learn about it – to understand it. We see a lot of images on television and in the media that are often very sad and sometimes distressing. The most important first step is to do some investigating for yourself, and find out a bit more about the issue.
At BORDERLESS, we have been faced with social issues such as grandmothers raising grandchildren in Africa, youth overdosing on drugs in developed countries like Canada, civil rights in Nepal and more recently the need for a fairer and more inclusive society for people with accessibility needs in New Zealand. In each case we are looking for real insights before we embark on storytelling and social change work.
Case in Point: What do I think about this?
In the case of A Grandmother’s Tribe, we met so many gorgeous children just like us, but who had been orphaned after their parents had died from HIV/AIDs. And we thought: that’s not fair.
We spent time with these children to understand their day to day lives and found out that it is their grandmothers who now play the role of raising them. So we started to think about how we could help these incredible grandmothers to raise their grandchildren.
What can I choose to do?
At this point we had to decide to really do something to help the children and their grandmothers in Africa. We decided to make a film that would tell the story of some of the people we met, and then raise money to help them. On the first night it showed in Canada, we raised enough money to buy 11 homes for Grannies, and today, we have played a small part in raising more than $12m and much awareness for the work of these incredible women.
From this process, we’ve learned that ethics is more about the process of understanding something rather than a set of rules to live by. By challenging our own thoughts by asking questions we will gain a broader and more deeply-informed set of values to live by.
This philosophy is central to the BORDERLESS way of thinking. We encourage everyone to keep asking questions; to ask themselves whether something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and why that’s the case.
We believe that this process of ethical questioning has led us to the incredible variety of work that we are involved in today, from accessibility to environmental issues, and helping kids in our very own backyard.
With all the dark, challenging and unfair issues that exist in the world, people are always asking ‘How can I make a difference?’.
The golden answer: Keep asking those questions. Is it unfair? What do I think about it? Then consciously choose to do something about it.