Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ethical Controversies

"The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law."

In the Venturing program, more so perhaps than any other BSA program, the idea of making ethical choices is a major focus. The requirements for the highest award in Venturing, the Silver award, are broken into three categories: Emergency Preparedness, Leadership, and Ethics in Action.

The Ethics requirements for the Silver award consist of participation in Ethical Controversies and leading an Ethics Forum. Both of these types of activities are fantastic for LDS crews. In this post, I'll focus on Ethical Controversies and will save the Ethics Forum for another post.

Ethical Controversies are great. My young men love them. In fact, I think they would rather do an Ethical Controversy activity than play basketball. And my young men really like to play basketball.

The basic idea is that you will examine, from both sides, a dilemma without an easy answer. Each side will have valid arguments. For example: competitive sports. One side might argue that competition is healthy because it helps develop discipline, persistence, teamwork, performance under pressure, and can help prepare people for life in the "real world." The other side might argue that competition is unhealthy because it promotes selfish and egotistical behavior, encourages cheating and other immoral behavior, and does nothing to develop character and may even provide an environment for the destruction of a person's character. 

The rules are pretty simple. The crew is broken into two teams. These teams are then divided into pairs (if you have that many). Each team is assigned a position or opinion about the ethical dilemma. Each team takes a few minutes to discuss their position and develop arguments. The two opposing sides then sit down facing each other and are ready to begin. If you have enough people, dividing into pairs will allow you to have multiple groups discussing the issues separately.

To begin, one side presents their arguments. During this time, the opposing side can not speak except to ask questions. Those questions should only be to clarify the position in an attempt to understand. Once the first side has presented, the second side will present. Once both sides have presented, you get to argue. That's what the young men really like to do. The actual directions say you should "discuss." Also, "Defend your position and critique the opposition. Try to persuade the opposing pair that you are correct, then listen to their defense and critique. Remember to be critical of ideas, not people."

After they've had a chance to argue for a few minutes, switch sides and do it again. If you have enough to work in pairs, have each pair argue the second opinion against a different pair than at first. This is the really neat part of the whole process. Everyone will argue both for and against each position. That can be hard. Sometimes the young men have very clearly defined ideas about the issue. This activity compels them to look at an issue from the opposite side. It requires them to challenge their own ideas. And ultimately, I think it helps them make better decisions.

At the end of the activity, you are supposed to try to reach a consensus--to develop a position that everyone can agree upon. This also can be hard, but usually ends up with a position incorporating parts of each beginning argument.

This process can also be used for dilemmas within the crew. For example, a disagreement about what activities to plan. For further information about Ethical Controversies, both instructions and ideas, click here

Now, why is this so good for an LDS crew? To answer that I'd like to tell you about one we did recently. I decided to develop my own controversial situation for them to argue. It went something like this: "While on a trip to Salt Lake City with your family you are approached by a homeless-looking man who asks you for some money so he can get something to eat. You have an extra $20 in your wallet that you could spare." The two opposing sides were to give him the money, or to not give him the money. I also gave them specific arguments for each side, but I won't list them here.

During the discussion portion we had one young man tell a couple stories about his father related to each argument. He actually had a different story for each side. This young man's father had been the bishop of our ward when he passed away of Leukemia. Hearing this young man tell stories about his father and how he handled the different situations was a rather emotional experience. All who were present were affected.

This activity allowed us an opportunity to discuss (in a fun way) ideas behind charity, kindness, and Christ-like behavior. I the end, the consensus they reached came from those stories of our former bishop. The young men decided that the best course of action is always to rely upon the spirit.

This experience highlights just one way that the Venturing program is perfect for an LDS priests quorum. The Scouting programs are a tool to be used within the Aaronic Priesthood in helping our young men. Please, use them.

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