Teaching Ethics in Silence

The highlighted quotes are from my former colleague, Dr. Sergia Hay (Kierkegaard scholar, teacher of ethics, discerner of vocation, and lovely human being that I had the honor to mentor for several years as Philosophy Department Chair) in her new book, Ethical Silence: Kierkegaard, Communication, Education and Humility (Lexington Books, 2020.) As we say on the Twitter, I’ve been saying this to the military for 25 years and she just summarized it beautifully in ONE page!

But then there is this too. “The student of ethics is also required to venture into actuality, a venture that is not without effort and the potential for failure.” (92) This is the quote that I will use to start my Contemporary version of the Stockdale (Foundations of Moral Obligation) course in a few weeks because it captures his vision as well as mine, as I articulate in this Ethics primer. While discussion and conversation, especially articulation is key to ethics and Ethical (as opposed to Moral) Leadership, action matters. Practice matters. Learning from failure matters. Reflection matters. And reflection requires silence.

When asked to ‘teach’ ethics. I am often asked for short, easy hacks that can be distilled into one power point slide or into a one page executive summary, a rubric or easy road map that can be used without much knowledge, background or reflection. To which I usually respond (with some gentle snark), if I had that I would be the wealthiest philosopher ever! Philosophers have been thinking about these things for thousands of years, if it were about a hack I think some enterprising young guru would have churned that out and be making tons of bank.

We all know its not that easy, even as we want it to be.

Its not. And these passages are a good reminder that in order to be able to act (which is the essence of the ethical life) we have to take time and space to reflect and be silent. To go into the self, to quiet the noise, to hear other voices, to discern which voices (including our own) we ought to listen to. To discern what we ought to do and WHY. This discernment is not final however. It is provisional, based upon our best knowledge of a complex world at that moment.

We will act, and the reflect some more as we ask ourselves: how did that go? what did we learn? What went well? What did not go well? What might we think about for next time?

My students (and other senior leaders) often say to me: I do not have time to reflect and be silent. I have too much to do.

I say: You have too much to do NOT to reflect and be silent. Unless you are silent, how will you know what to say? Unless you reflect deeply, how will you know what to do? More importantly, how will you know the right thing to do?

How do you reflect? How do you take time for silence?

Please share!

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Published by shankskaurin

Philosopher and military ethicist. Author of two books, including "On Obedience" (USNI Press, 2020) I also teach war college students for the Navy. (Views here are personal only.) Mother to two energetic young lads. Foodie, gardener and Diva with a shoe obsession.

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