One reason I’m publically participating in SIETAR’s Eye on Ethics conversation is for just that—the conversation. My conviction is that we have the opportunity for a critical and worthy conversation that can clarify and refine our discipline and work. This conversation will require the transformative skills and knowledge that we promote and teach—self-awareness, other-orientation, mindfulness, courageous risk-taking and creative, inclusive and reflective problem-solving. But the conversation should not end with a public declaration of our standards, at least I hope not.
It’s essential that SIETAR-USA has a code of ethics that is far more than just a sexy statement that sits on our website to legitimize our profession along side other professions. Its deepest value is its future impact through continued conversation. This professional public declaration of our Society’s code of ethics can challenge us to stay in conversation about these refining, clarifying and directing principles as we practice and teach them in our work, no matter what the context, time and opinions.
A couple of years ago I was anticipating a return to my work in the academy after a transformative sabbatical living and working in the Middle East. I was a changed person. My institution was not. My cousin, also an academic, warned me, “You know, Naomi. Lots of people get depressed when they return from sabbatical.” My salvation in this dismal prospect was to read Robert Quinn’s book Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Things. Quinn offered me a mantra to withstand the malaise of the ivory tower that can drive crazy a maverick change agent like me: “Inner directed. Outer focused.”
I needed to know clearly the principles and values that keep me focused to what Gordon Watanabe calls our vision for what is our highest and best. So for the last month of my sabbatical, I focused my attention to articulate my guiding principles following the worldview shift I experienced during my sabbatical. I talked with my colleagues in the Middle East and at home, I read more about how I could truly change my sphere of influence and how I could lead others to do the same. The very real temptation was to return to the academy and close my door to those forces that irritated me most and hunker-down into my work, for me, instead of for the greater good.
When I returned from my sabbatical, nearly every day for the next twelve months I had to restate my mantra: Inner directed. Outer focused. It kept me sane. It also encouraged me to stay at a higher standard of intercultural performance than what I had been at before this transformative exercise. I knew and held to the inner principles and values that drove my actions, but I was focused on doing so for the greater good of the university, which required flexibility, humility and listening. I felt strong and confident in the difficult conversations that I strategically chose to engage in with my colleagues and administrators because I knew the content of my foundation.
SIETAR-USA’s members will benefit from this same exercise that we’ve embarked on. If our goal with our clients, students and research is to promote transformative change in our globalized world, we need to know the content of our inner direction, the content of our foundation. A professional code of ethics can do this for us.
If we believe that a collective sum is greater than its parts, that diversity has the potential for more effective solutions to the injustices of our world, then a trans-cultural, collective “inner directed” list of principles has the potential to do this. If SIETAR-USA members engage in the risky task that we ask our students and clients to engage in, could it be a catalyst toward the tipping point of systemic change for even just one of the world’s nagging injustices? Call me an idealist, a dreamer. But isn’t this what interculturalists must have? Hopes and dreams?
Okay. Someone hand me some reality. And this is why I, and perhaps a few other SIETARians, need this collective code of ethics and an on going conversation about the tension these standards will produce. The continued conversation will keep us focused and centered on how to be outer directed for the greater good in our many cultural contexts.
Let’s say some of us get so caught up in an initiative, a potential for change, that we are tempted to ignore an ethical implication. Then my intercultural colleague can remind me, “Hey Naomi, remember that code of ethics that you talk about? Maybe we should revisit principle number seven.” (Just had to choose the perfect number!) This is exactly what the Declaration of Human Rights has done for the UN. It forces its members to keep each other accountable to stay in conversation, fiery conversation at times, about its declared standard that represents its principles and values.
So I invite the risk takers, the curious and the leery on lookers to join in this courageous conversation now, and beyond. Let’s face the difficult conversation and wrestle with the tensions of a trans-cultural code of ethics. We will be better, perhaps more grounded, practitioners through this opportunity to lead the field of professional interculturalists for the greater good.
Naomi Ludeman Smith, DMin, is an associate professor of intercultural studies in the Anthropology, Sociology and Reconciliation Studies Department, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN. Through her consulting business, Impact Leadership, she leads workshops and provides individual consultation for organizations and universities in the U.S., Ukraine and the Middle East. Her most recent publication is The Spiritual Cross-Cultural Sojourner: Seeking the Sacred and Peace With Others. Her degrees are from Bethel University and Bethel Seminary.
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