Some believe that truth is generally black and white – either something is true or not. Others insist that truth has many gray areas. Folks disagree on whether it is always moral to tell the truth or whether there are higher morals than the truth. How can you collaborate with others to reflect on meanings and values from a reason-oriented perspective?
Benefits of an Ethics Discussion Meeting
I run a number of such meetings in my role as President of Intentional Insights, a nonprofit devoted to popularizing science-based strategies to reach our goals and succeed at life. You can set up your own ethics discussion, and participants gain a great deal from attending these events:
On the feedback sheets passed around after one of our events, one participant wrote: “I gained greater insight into how other people navigate difficult discussions regarding truth and values, when not all parties agree.”
Another wrote that now they will “always question ‘my truth’” and will engage in “thinking more about what I hold true.”
A third wrote that “building a sense of community is what I gained.”
Reflecting on purpose, meaning, values, and morals together with others in your community and social circle provides:
• A venue for reflecting on deep life questions
• A means of building and cultivating social and community connections
• A way to help others, through assisting them in finding clearer answers to life’s big questions
Thus, participating in such discussion groups offers a trifecta of elements to help people gain a sense of meaning and purpose in life. During these discussions, it is especially beneficial to write down how the helpful thoughts expressed by others informed and changed your thinking. Research shows that writing these down helps you remember and understand them better, while also minimizing distracting and unhelpful thoughts about unfulfilled plans.
Organizing a Meeting
If you are interested in attending an ethics discussion meeting, you can often find local meetings online. Humanist Communities often hold such meetings as interfaith, reason-oriented venues for people to reflect in a community setting on life’s meaning and purpose and on their values and ethics from an evidence-based perspective.
But let’s say you didn’t find one around you and want to organize your own meeting. The first thing that you want to ensure is to create a safe and open-minded environment. Ensure that people listen actively and offer empathy to each other.
To do that, it helps to open the meeting with social time for folks to get to know each other. We used a potluck, so that people eat together. This helps people get to know and become comfortable with each other. Having that comfort helps people trust each other and be vulnerable, which is vital when discussing ethics with each other.
During the discussion, consider the needs of diverse participants, both extroverts and introverts. To ensure they can peacefully coexist, create a moderation structure that gets people to speak one at a time. Prevent cross-talk and back-and-forth in your moderation. Discourage advice-giving unless someone asks for it, and cut debates short. Talk about an expectation of privacy: whatever is said at the event stays at the event.
Pick the topic in advance, and provide some readings for folks to get them into the spirit of things. Readings will help introverts get into the materials and prepare their thoughts before they speak. At the same time, readings will structure the discussion in a shared setting, providing a baseline for everyone to refer to in their comments.
In our meetings, we had some great discussions on topics such as: celebrations, both traditional and self-created ones; life transitions, such as moving, becoming a parent, and retiring; friendship, including how to develop friendships, how to be a good friend, and how to deal with conflicts in friendships; responsibility, including responsibility to oneself, one’s social circle, and one’s society; meaning and purpose; and many others. Intentional Insights has put together some sample readings and topic plans to get you started.
I hope you have a great experience at your meeting!
Featured photo credit: Richard Foster-CCBYSA 2.0 License via flickr.com