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27 APRIL 2001
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The new priests

Grant Charles

Iíve been spending a lot of time thinking about ethics lately. Itís something I think about quite often because it seems to me that somehow we are missing the boat in this area. This latest bout of thought was triggered by a workshop I presented to a group of students at the local university. It was about dealing with young people who self-mutilate. Itís a workshop I do a couple of times a year. Thereís some theory in it but for the most part it is more of a real world, intervention type of workshop.

One of the questions I ask during the course of the workshop is why should we intervene with young people who self-mutilate. After all one could argue that it is a less destructive act than substance abuse or suicide. Indeed, self-mutilation serves as a very powerful coping mechanism for someone who often is in chronic psychological pain. When one considers the alternatives maybe self-mutilation is so bad after all. Anyhow the whole purpose of the questions was to provoke the students into thinking about why we do what we do. Many of the students havenít thought down these lines before. They often have a very concrete view of when to intervene. ďSelf-mutilation looks wrong and therefore we should intervene.Ē There often is no attempt to look past the obvious and examine the underlying.

'Content free' issues
Iím not trying to be critical of students here. I donít think many of our postsecondary programs help students think in this manner. Even here Iím not blaming the schools because as a society we have not done a good job of examining the moral and ethical issues of our time. We frequently develop ďcontent freeĒ views of issues that superficially seem to address our problems but have little depth of thought behind them. In many ways we have abdicated our responsibilities in this area.

Our profession is a prime example of this abdication. We develop codes of ethics and somehow consider this an achievement. Yet we donít spend a lot of time talking about how to put our codes of ethics into practice. For example we spend a lot of time discussing which intervention to use with young people but not nearly as much time on the ďrightnessĒ of the work we are doing. By doing this we are short changing not just the young people in our care but also ourselves and our profession. Interventions without a fit with ďrightnessĒ are wrong.

This abdication of our responsibilities both as people and professionals is best seen in the growth of a new breed of beast in the last few years called ethicists. It is a sad statement about who we are that we need someone to tell us about what is right or wrong. I guess it would be more accurate to say that they help us to think about how to think about what is right or wrong. It seems as if we have created a new priesthood. I wonder why we need such a beast. What is lacking in our training that we need to have people raise questions that we should automatically be raising on a regular basis. Why do we need to have someone raise questions that we should be discussing on our teams as a matter of course. After all itís not as if we donít know the difference. So the question is why is that we donít. I donít have an answer for this question but I sure think we need to come up with one donít you?

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