Friday, April 10, 2015

Re-Thinking Ethics

I had an incredible experience yesterday while sitting at the coffee shop.

When I went to my usual table, I noticed an open laptop and a few books on the unoccupied table across from me. I saw another regular customer at the next table over and said, "If I sit there today, do I get a free laptop?"

"Limited time only, so you better hurry."

Well, about 30 seconds later the owner of said laptop came back to her table.

"Oh well," I quipped, "there goes my free computer."

She laughingly said, "You can have it if you want to do the work."

"That depends," I replied, always quick on the uptake, especially when a free computer is involved, "what are working on?"

"Re-writing the nurses' code of ethics."

It turns out she is a student at a local college, one which I have had the pleasure of speaking at. In fact, I have actually addressed some of her classes.

We talked for a few minutes about how she was asked to trim down a 64-page document, riddled with repetitive redundancies, down to a easy-to-read 4-page literary masterpiece. Having had a little bit of experience doing similar things, with much less weighty material, in all senses of the phrase, I offered a suggestion to her by means of a question.

"If you could sum up the whole document", I asked, "in 5 words, what would they be? 5 virtues. How would you do it?"

To my surprise, she actually thought about it, took it seriously. I mean, I actually meant it as a serious question, but I didn't expect her to do it.

"Accountability", she began, and then hesitantly added, "responsibility, compassion, respect", and then she couldn't find a fifth.

I praised her for her choices, and suggested that she try outlining the whole document with those headers. It might help her find an easier way to organize it, which appeared to be the sticking point for her.

She thanked me, and went back to her work. For my part, I smiled and went on to my own.

But something kept bothering me.

I pulled out my Ruhi Book 8, and turned to Unit 3, which focuses no the Universal House of Justice. I turned to section 30, which deals with the Western perspective, and read a few of the questions, each of which had proven so useful in many other areas in recent days.

I said a quiet prayer, and then spoke up.

"Excuse me", I called.


"Can I make an observation, please?"

"Of course."

"I noticed that in your list, you began with accountability. Why is that?"

She then began to explain to me the importance of nurses being accountable for their decisions, and how hospitals were in a tough position financially.

I told her that I was going through this workbook, and some of the questions had intrigued me, prompting m observation. I read her just a few. "What patterns of behavior emerge when an inordinate desire to stay young sets the standard for personal conduct?" "What kinds of injustices are committed when the desire for greater and greater profit is accepted as the fundamental operating principle of business?" "What are the effects on the environment and on the health of the world's population when the desire to have more and more defines humanity's relationship with nature?"

We spoke briefly of the underlying concept of materialism that pervades our culture, and how dangerous this can be, how it completely skews our understanding of humanity's role in the world.

And then I said something which, judging by he expressions that crossed her face, seemed to change everything for her. "What are the effects of putting accountability as the primary factor in that document? What would it look like if you put compassion as the chief overarching factor?"

I can't tell you what happened after that, for I could tell that she was processing that idea. She was going through those scenarios and realizing on a very deep level the problem with making accountability more important than compassion. She was coming to terms with the very idea that nursing is seen on our culture as a business, rather than a service. She was beginning to understand that she was in a very special position, capable of creating great change with such a seemingly innocuous job.

We didn't speak much after that, except to wish each other well as I left. But I could see in her expression, and her very demeanour, that she was returning to that basic understanding of why she was becoming a nurse in the first place.

We never know what little gifts God will toss our way when we leave the home in the morning. All I know is that we need to be open and ready to embrace them as they come our way.

And I, for one, am very grateful that this woman and I crossed paths yesterday.


  1. As a person who has been a Caregiver to the senior citizens and I am also going to school to get my CNA and then pursue further studied in the medical field. I find your story very useful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.