Ethical controversies are dilemmas without easy answers, dilemmas in which each side might have valid arguments. The following situation is an example.
You have been summoned for jury duty in your county. One of the cases on the docket is the well-publicized prosecution of a man for a series of assaults that occurred within a five-mile radius of your house. These were especially brutal crimes that occurred over several months. The assailant entered the open windows of the homes of the victims and assaulted and robbed them.
Because you live in the area where the robberies occurred and where the defendant lives, you are concerned about your safety during and after the trial. You also are concerned about your ability to be entirely fair and objective as a juror.
Your choices (position statements) are as follows:
To avoid any possibility of revenge or intimidation, you ask to be excused from participation on the jury
You serve on the jury anyway since you believe it is your civic and moral obligation to serve, and that attempting to avoid jury duty would be shirking your responsibility.
Instructions To use the above opposing positions as learning activities for your crew, follow these instructions.
Organize the Activity Divide the crew into groups of four. Include Advisors and any other adults present. If possible, divide into groups so that Venturers work with people they don't know very well.
Divide each group of four into two groups of two. Give each pair a copy of a position statement. Be sure to assign the pairs opposing sides. It does not matter whether the participants agree with their assigned position.
Conduct the Activity An ethical controversy activity has five simple steps. Describe and conduct them one at a time. Allow enough time to complete each step before moving on. All groups of four should work on each step at the same time. The entire activity takes from 45 minutes to two hours.
Learn the position. With your partner, develop as many arguments as possible to support your assigned position. You also can work with a pair from another group that has the same topic and position.
Present your position. Present your arguments to the other pair. In turn, listen closely to their position, making sure you understand their arguments. Clarify your understanding by restating what others say.
Discuss the issue. 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.
Reverse positions. Switch positions with the other pair. Take a few minutes with your partner to review your new position. Present and defend your new position as if you really believed in it.
Try to reach consensus. Work toward finding a position that all four believe is the correct one. This may be a position already discussed or a completely new one. Change your mind only when you are convinced by rational arguments.
Follow Up After the activity is over, discuss it as a large group. Ask each group of four how they arrived at their final position. Compare the positions chosen and the arguments used to support them. Reflect on the process, discussing both the activity and how group members related with each other.
Prepared Ethical Controversies A collection of prepared ethical controversies may be used to practice the process until you are comfortable with it.
Applying the Ethical Controversy Process to Your Own Interest Area When you are comfortable with the ethical controversy process, you can use it with ethical dilemmas chosen by you, selected by crew members, or suggested during an ethics forum. The process is exactly the same, except that you will need to either write or explain the dilemma for the groups.
As explained previously, you can do this in one crew meeting or several. For example, you could assign positions at one crew meeting and conduct the actual ethical controversy activity one or two weeks later. Between meetings, the partners could gather information from libraries or professionals in the field to support their position. They could use this information to prepare a convincing argument.
Use With Crew Dilemmas Every crew has problems or dilemmas that are difficult to solve. The ethical controversy process can be used to help crew members discuss solutions. Just as you have done before, assign positions to opposing team members, regardless of whether they agree with the position, and have them develop supporting arguments. Follow the steps to help them reach consensus.