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  • Reverend James Squire

What Will Change The Context?


When I was teaching lateral thinking (thinking outside the box) with my Ethics Class, there was an exercise that was one of many ways to address a dilemma with ethical action. I used the same text that that they were using at Penn, Pumping Ions by Steve Wodjak.


One of the important ingredients In solving difficult problems is to make the problem central and determine what you would add or subject from it to change the context to make clear what an ethical decision could possibly solve it. At the same time, you have to “walk around” the problem and to see it from various perspectives that would be held by stakeholders. The question is, “Who benefits and who doesn’t?” In essence, you need to see it from as many perspectives as you could.


There are many examples in behavioral economics found in Freakonomics by Dubner Steven Levitt. One of the examples that always gets the attention of the readers is a chapter with the title, “Why Do Drug Dealers Live with Their Mothers? It is because they are willing to sell drugs to others on street corners for little money because they always have in mind the big car and flashy lifestyle of the drug lord.


What does all of this have to do with an ethical dilemma today? Everything! The battle between Hamas and Israel continues to rage on and has given birth to protests on college campuses.  What do we need to remove from that global ethical to bring about change and end the war.


It strikes me that just two things need to happen to reshape the context that is in the realm of possibility but still difficult to do. We could stop the war if we empowered the Palestinians to remove Hamas from the equation. We would also need to remove Netanyahu and the right-wing government of Israel, and we could reach a settlement that could begin a discussion of how to move forward. Netanyahu is just like Trump. He needs to stay in power in order not to be put in prison for his other crimes such as fraud. Easy, no!

The answer, yes! We would also need to add war crimes to the Netanyahu and the leaders of Hamas.


We always think of decision making as something that is forward moving, but there is another kind of decision making that asks what would have to happen for me to change my decision. I asked Todd Carmichael, founder of LaColumbe Coffee, to address our Upper School faculty and students because he had an interesting decision-making model that he used in his company by asking, “What would have to happen for me to change course?” He has traveled the world as an adventurer crossing the Sahara dragging a sled behind with wheels. He is the first person to walk across Antarctica. He trained by pulling a truck tire throughout his local community.


Here is the question that Todd would raise. AS he was making his way across Arartica, he would call his wife, Lauren Hart, every night, She was being treated for cancer. If the cancer came back, he would stop even if he was 100 yards to the finish line. That was his decision making.


The question before us regarding the Israel and Hamas War is what would it take to stop that war in its tracks? That’s the real ethical question. There must be something!

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