Category Archives: social consciousness

The Week in Ethics: Peace, Education, Equality and Malala Yousafzai

“Let us pick up our books and pens; they are our most powerful weapons,” Malala Yousafzai told the United Nations General Assembly on July 12, 2013. Her compelling 17-minute speech advocated for peace, education and equality around the world so that schools and education can be “every child’s bright future.”

What is especially remarkable about her comments, aside from wisdom well beyond her just sixteen years, is that on October 9, 2012, she was shot in the forehead by the Taliban and left for dead. Rather than the Taliban silencing her, she said at the UN, “weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”

Malala paid tribute to all those who have fought for their rights: “Their right to live in peace; their right to be treated with dignity; their right to equal opportunity; their right to be educated.”

Her path to activism for education, and for girls and women to have a voice, began long before she was a teenager. Having grown up in an environment of political violence, she knows peace is essential for education.

Extremists, she said, are afraid of books and pens, and also women, change and equality.

Her life experience so far pushing against intolerance is another dramatic illustration that the purpose of intolerance is to silence. It barricades itself and everything it dominates in ignorance. Pens and books are powerful steps in breaking through intolerance.

Her leadership journey is launched, fueled by purpose, resilience and a passion that children be protected from brutality and harm, able to change themselves and the world through free, compulsory education.

Dignity, equal opportunity, education….Malala reminds us, “We cannot all succeed if half of us are held back.”

Gael O’Brien July 15, 2013

The Week in Ethics

Gael O’Brien is The Ethics Coach columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine. Gael is also a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine; her June 2013 column looks at leadership vulnerabilities of departing OSU president Gordon Gee.


The Week in Ethics: Wisdom in Action, Andrew Pochter and Martin Richard

Our individual wisdom is what shapes our leadership and determines our humanity. It comes out of how we see, feel and interpret joys and sorrow in life and what we’ve learned from others.

How we live and act on our wisdom is our legacy, a true measure of how we inspire and impact others.

The deaths of eight-year old Martin Richard in the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and Kenyon College student Andrew Pochter, a bystander in Egypt’s June 2013 political uprising, are among the more recent tragic consequences of a world-wide breakdown in wisdom when intransigent intolerance and random violence become the overpowering language.

Martin Richard cropA makeshift memorial in Boston’s Copley Square, bound on three sides by what seemed like thousands of running shoes, framed the tributes to those killed and the more than 260 injured in the bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Martin’s parents were injured in the blasts and his sister, an aspiring dancer, lost a leg. The tribute to Martin focused on his own words: “No more hurting people. Peace.”

He had written that message on a poster for a class project after 17-year old Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida.

Andrew Pochter was in Alexandria, Egypt for an internship teaching English to children Martin Richard’s age when he was stabbed to death watching a protest. He had planned to return after college, his parents said, “to live and work there in pursuit of peace and understanding.” At his funeral July 12, 2013, his sister read a letter he had sent recently to a 12-year old he’d been mentoring the previous five summers at a camp for at-risk youth in Maryland. The camper was graduating from the program.

In the letter, Andrew congratulated him on all he’d accomplished, called out his strengths and offered snippets of Andrew’s own wisdom, telling the 12-year old: to surround himself with friends who do “good deeds” and care about his future, not blame others for their mistakes, and speak with confidence “because your personal confidence is just as important as your education.”

We can’t know what Martin or Andrew or any of the thousands of youth killed each year by political, religious and sexual violence or other forms of rage could have contributed by their leadership had they lived. However, globally there has been a huge loss of potential talent and contribution. We know that Martin and Andrew, among so many others, knew the wisdom of peace.

That legacy in a world torn up by intolerance — the opposite of peace — fueled by the legacy of so many others who died in service of peace demand that leaders at every level start by acting on their wisdom to rout out intolerance in their own spheres crippling governments, workplaces, families, and communities, and then advance the conversation to act globally.

Intolerance is poison. The lyrics of “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” in the iconic 1949 musical South Pacific (which Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted from James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific) continue to resonate through Broadway revivals and community theaters. It reminds us of what we have yet to undo:

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear….You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Gael O’Brien July 13, 2013

The Week in Ethics

Gael O’Brien is The Ethics Coach columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine. Gael is also a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine; her June 2013 column looks at leadership vulnerabilities of departing OSU president Gordon Gee.

The Ethics of Making a Film: The American

The American, which opened September 1, 2010 weaves together assassins, prostitutes and a priest who failed to keep his vows into a thriller that pits betrayal against love. The character George Clooney plays is a hit man at the cross roads. He has an unexpected proclivity, an attraction to butterflies. One is tattooed on his back and he is drawn to a river area that attracts a rare species of white butterfly, nearly extinct.

Butterflies, white or otherwise, are generally used as symbols of change and transformation. The transformation of Clooney’s hit man is faintly won as he reaches out to love and is able to trust as time is running out. The white butterfly, an ethereal presence, gives the illusion of soul, a reminder that the ancient Greek word for butterfly (psyche) was soul. Soul is nearly extinct in a world of expedient annihilation.

The world-weary killer Clooney portrays lives at an animal level where survival of the fittest is based on the deadliest aim, fastest weapon, and instinct to overcome another’s vulnerability. It is death for hire, the absence of any moral consideration.

The film draws on archetypes – the prostitute with a heart of gold, the fallen priest driven to save others, the killer who will stop after one last job. The plot moves from one betrayal to another with Clooney’s character shifting back and forth between the hunter and the hunted.

What is especially interesting about the film is the story behind how it was made. There is a wonderful contrast between the film’s depicting man without conscience and the almost “soulful” combination of pragmatism and social conscience that guided the director’s selection of where to shoot the movie.

Director Anton Corbijn wanted to film most of the movie in Abruzzo, Italy, particularly around the capital city, L’Aquila, which was where the book A Very Private Gentleman which inspired the movie was set. However, in April 2009 a  severe earthquake destroyed L’Aquila and other villages in Abruzzo, killing several hundred and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

Knowing that the region would be well served economically by having the movie made there, and liking the area’s fit for the film, Corbijn persisted in looking for villages that could be rebuilt by fall’s film schedule; his team met with various mayors to see what could be done. Those involved with the film helped support fundraising efforts, including George Clooney’s visit to L’Aquila to call attention internationally to the earthquake’s damage. The villages of Castel Del Monte and Castelvecchio committed to being ready for the filming, and with Sulmona were the three locations in Abruzzo used.

As the area has not fully recovered, relief efforts continue. Village leaders in Abruzzo hope that tourism will be invigorated by movie goers being charmed by the film’s setting and traveling  to see the region.

The making of The American tells a larger story than whatever box office appeal it will have; it is about people of principle who, rather than avoid the inconvenience of disaster and go elsewhere to avoid complications, diminished disaster’s impact by how they choose to do business and make a movie.

Gael O’Brien, September 4, 2010

The Week in Ethics