ethics

Body(s) count(s)

I struggle to watch or read the news as it feels like our roads are a war zone. With every report of a serious accident, I hold my breath to see if they might be connected to communities I am part of. The last couple of weeks have been emotional, as I supported friends of a young person who died in an accident and have connections with the school community I work in. Another young life lost on our roads, and someone I know/knew well. While we all processed the shock and grief, I became aware and disturbed by the media’s approach to this particular accident. I need to say something because I am dismayed at the lack of awareness and compassion for those closest to these young people. The last straw was reading this in the NZ Herald.

All media reports follow a pattern of providing ‘factual information’. Facts are generally descriptions of things like number of vehicles, location and time of accident, number of people in the vehicle, age, ethnicity and gender. The last aspect of this description is where the media focussed its attention as the gender identities of the two young people killed were revealed over the week through a series of articles. As soon as someone is named their gender is assumed and both young people in this particular accident were known in various communities by different names and genders, yes, they were transgender but their relationships with family and friends occupy a landscape of complexity that should not be thrown open to the media in a time of trauma and grief.

These families should not have to deal with the loss of a child and have salivating journalists looking for a juicy ‘story’. It is hard enough for young trans people to negotiate how to ‘come out’ it’s usually something carefully considered and managed. Imagine how challenging this would be if the control was stolen, this is what happened to these two young people. The media managed to ‘dead name’ both and then amp up the sick objectification of their ‘bodies’ through photos which inevitably get people to ‘guess the gender’.

Did the media ever stop to consider that transitioning is a sensitive, personal process, and for young people this often means navigating family, culture and identity, deciding who to tell, when and how. In this case, THEY could not do this, they had no voice! And if they cannot tell their story, it is not YOURS TO TELL! Seriously, where are your ethics? Did the family give consent for this information to be made public? Why do the public need to know this information – who’s interests and needs are served? How does this help these families at a very difficult time? I’ll help you out…

IT DOESN’T!

It feeds the inevitable transphobia of social media trolls who can now comment and make sick jokes, all before another family get to bury their child. Good to know the New Zealand Herald has journalists with the ethical compass of a psychopath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drowning sorrows

About a year ago I wrote a piece about the need for Kiwis to move on from the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to water safety. I’m talking adult responsibility here, and I might even add driving, drinking and sex to the list of things we’d rather not talk about or simply assume this thing called ‘common sense’ will offer some guidance and protection. I’m wondering what all these things have in common and what aspects are unique or perhaps not so easy to make sense of. With four possibly five people drowning in just a single 24hr period it’s more than a personal tragedy it’s a question of relationships that go beyond individuals and notions of responsibility.

In terms of a philosophical shift in ‘where the buck stopped’ the move from God to the individual happened a while back (more commonly referred to as the Age of Enlightenment – although there are always shadows) and we’re still trying to figure out what that actually looks like in practice. We’ve made some reasonable steps in terms of recognising what chronological age might limit and we probably over cooked the gender thing at times. But the idea of connection and taking care of others has mutated into a ‘them and us’ separation with ‘them’ also incurring some form of repellent type shield protecting ‘us’ from any sense of care or even interaction. The emerging apathy becoming more a form of collective sociopathy. This is what concerns me and I don’t think we need another advertising campaign, or philanthropist chucking money at it.

What I do think (for what it’s worth) is if people can reconnect with a sense of community and connection regardless of the amount of length of time that community remains together, then ‘care taking’ might take on a more active and interactive form. A group at the beach, a line of traffic, a park, dance party, festival, these are ‘pop-up’ communities. In a way what probably needs to happen is something similar to what has occurred with technology where relationship have adapted and changed. Part of the hang up is about the meaning of ‘individual’ and ‘response-ability’. The idea of caring about others needs a 21st Century reboot, a decent ‘control-alt-delete’ jolt from Western metaphysical defaults – especially the Cartesian split.

Keeping others and ourselves safe from harm is an ethic, one that is sometimes a matter a life and death. Let’s talk about it and say hi to each other as a first step. Be safe out there – I care.

Inside Out and Upside Down

Although I retired from the classroom years ago, I still dabble in teaching the occasional health class. It is an honour and a privilege to have conversations with 16-17 year olds about sexuality and there are new resources to go with more language to describe the wide spectrum of identity. One of the newest is Inside Out and if anything people’s vocabulary will broaden when it comes to diversity. For any health teacher needing a solid start in coming to grips with some of more hidden aspects of sex, gender and sexuality – intersex and transgender in particular it would be good to take a look at. For those who feel more settled or stuck in a rut it might just freshen things up.

My hesitation is not with resource so much. I agree with the intention of the need to create more awareness or acceptance of ‘difference’. My narrative counselling lens is finely tuned so I’m a little sensitive to language, power and discourse. As such, I’m a bit irritating to those who hold more traditional humanistic ideas about ‘self’. This is pretty much the underpinning philosophy of all education. So back to my nagging uncertainty, it’s about the ability of teachers to facilitate conversations, questions and hold an open ethical space for ideas to be shared. I do not doubt the depth of knowledge and skill some teachers have, but I’ve heard enough students comment about their shock and disbelief, confusion and unease. One recent example was a class who were asked to stand and to sit down if they had talked to one gay person that day (or week?), and gradually it was the last person standing. I’m not sure how accurate this is to what actually happened, but if it is even partially true it is disconcerting. Sort of wondering if you get extra points for gay people of different cultures, ages, disabilities (yes people with disabilities experience sexuality!)…

I’d ask one thing of teachers using this resource – do not disclose your sexuality (particularly if you identify as heterosexual) if asked and especially if you are a cisgendered male. These resources will have the greatest influence if teachers are aware of the privilege/power of heteronormativity and how every interaction, utterance, expression, hesitation, avoidance or inability to comfortably facilitate complex notions of identity will determine what young people ‘learn’.

Schools simply need more PD on LGBTQIA….and not just rainbow scrabble.

 

 

Plastic not so fantastic

Petroleum products have not been around for long but they have certainly had an impact on our lives and the environment. Our love affair with hydrocarbons has spawned all sorts of useful things including my favourite – polyurethane wheels for skate boards. The 70’s saw the explosion of plastic inventions including Tupperwear and cling wrap or ‘glad wrap’ (aptly named for the time). I remember my Dad keenly wrapping everything in my lunch box so much so that completing a rubix cube might have been easier to solve than how to get into my sandwiches. These days almost everything comes wrapped in some form of plastic. Sometimes I want to laugh hysterically, don a balaclava and run into a fruit and vege shop with a craft knife and free all cucumbers and cauliflower that are suffocating in PVC condoms and polystyrene.

The relationship with this stuff needs to change. We need to break it off as a species and get honest with the cost – not the monetary value or economic impact – the cost to nature. I’m not sure if you have tried enjoying a walk on the beach recently but I don’t so much as enjoy it anymore as find myself picking up bits of bags, pegs, corks, nylon, and ‘sad wrap’. There is a bit of an addiction to problem-solution thinking as well. Yes we need to clean up the environment but it’s become a trend to find novel ways to use waste creatively or find ways to recruit nature to help do the cleaning up. One of the current ideas is that mealworms are the answer – they can eat polystyrene apparently and not get a hangover. Sounds very ethical, keep making a mess and let someone else clean it up – and you don’t even have to pay them. But plastic that gets into the ocean is another story. Sea life needs better protection and every loose bit that falls into the sea is a hazard. If it isn’t strangling something, it’s ingested even when dissolved into microscopic levels. Yes – plastic has been found in plankton, the only way is up the food chain from there.

Summer is coming, the beach is calling. If you see a bag blowing along the beach, jump on it – just watch the sudden reduction in friction resulting in the inadvertent splits and potential hamstring strain. Nature has just one request leave nothing but footprints and buttock creases.

A Plutonic Relationship

It has taken nearly 10 years for the New Horizons to reach Pluto. Radio signals take four and a half hours to get back, nothing new if you’re used to trying to get a response from a call centre. Pluto represents a threshold of sorts. Probes are the new ships of discovery at the mercy of Newtons laws and the winds of political and scientific change. Billions of kilometres travelled and yet not even a stones throw from our door step. On the same day another group of physicist discovered a new quantum particle, a pentaquark. Pluto or particle these are moments of wonder to expand our still limited and sheltered understanding of reality. But as we look outward and beyond or inward I can’t discern the difference. I feel simultaneously a drop of water in the ocean and the ocean. However above all else seeing other planets that have no life as we know it living on them reminds me of how absolutely insane the human race is. Our relationship with the world we inhabit is nothing short of psychopathic. We are not custodians but criminals at best. There is only one thing driving the ecosystem to the brink and it is us. If there was a lonely planet guide for the earth it might read something like:

“The jewel of this system with liquid water and amazing biodiversity. However it is currently experiencing a human plague so best to give a wide berth as they are hostile and paranoid with egos and childlike needs for power. Their selfishness and fear is matched only by their untapped creativity and love. The level of contamination and destruction of life this one species has created in the name of what they call progress suggests they will either destroy themselves along with this wonderful one of a kind world or die trying. Explore the rich ocean life while you can. Remember they believe they are the only intelligent life to have ever existed so best to go incognito. If you intend to stay for a while masquerading as a scientist is easy just do not tell them they are wrong about anything and best not to leave anything behind they could blow themselves up with, they discovered nuclear power and still haven’t learnt their lesson. The best example of a human disguise is going by the name Steven Hawking, however the physiology did not merge so well in the end. Finally you will need to get used to the concept of money. Again, do not try and convince them do not need it to survive”.

Thanks science for the amazing pictures but what really needs a good probe is us.

Teaching no lessen

There are some interesting intersections brought about by my journey in education. Going from a teacher to a counsellor has seen my perspective and values shift and move and from time to time come together. But I generally only get to teach two kinds of lessons these days. I either teach juggling and unicycling to year 11 sport science classes or a one off health class on consent and negotiation for year 12’s. Never both at the same time although some of the themes of risk, fear, going one step at a time and moving at your own pace do line up.

So on Friday I will be in front of a class I have no relationship with about to launch into the realm of sex and the complexity of desire mixed with cultural and social norms, family values and gendered assumptions without any real sense of what these young people might have already experienced. Actually, that is not entirely true. Because in my privileged position as a counsellor I will know some of them, and they will know what I know. So there will be a level of extra vulnerability attached to this conversation. It is a juggling act of sensitivities to confidentiality, privacy and accepting that within the space all sorts of beliefs, values, experiences and needs will be present. I know I am there in my capacity as a counsellor but what does that actually mean to these 16-17 year old young women that a counsellor is coming in to talk with them? It really is the definition of ‘awkward’.

Talking about consent invites the polarity of coercion. Society in general still needs to grapple with gendered assumptions of power and consent. I recently stumbled on a great cartoon likening consent to having ‘a cup of tea’. There are some limits to this as an analogy but I kind of like it for its simplici-tea, it’s also gender neutral , stick figures are good for that. But it’ll be me in the hot seat Friday. So…what can I bring? I can bring a non-judgemental stance, but is that enough? I can bring an openness about the competing needs and feelings, physical, emotional responses that might all happen at once when it comes to sex. I can bring a level of ‘unshockability’ while ensuring questions and statements do not position people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. My hope is that I can use some of my performance skills from juggling that are about setting a safe tone for exploring, renaming or relocating a sense of failure or loss of worth into something more respectful and takes into account the realities of diverse sexual experiences.

Leaving the door open for conversations at another time for those who might have more to process will be an ideal outcome. I intend not to leave a trail of guilt, self-doubt and fear. I intend to acknowledge the range of tensions and embodied realities of desire, pleasure and the contexts that can enable and disable actions or decisions. I will be intentional not to assume these young women will all be having sexual experiences or indeed be heterosexual. That to me is one way all teachers can support the well-being of LGBTIQ young people.

But perhaps more than anything to give them and experience of an adult who will not reject or shame them because they are young women talking about being/becoming sexually active – not just passive. I think that is enough things in the air for one lesson.

No brainer

Could someone please explain to me why giving a biological molecule to a person who is having a perpetual seizure (so is in an induced coma) that is likely to result in some form of permanent brain damage in the very least is somehow an issue about drug use? Or that in order to ‘preserve life’ and ‘do no harm’ doing nothing is better than taking a risk with something ‘unproven’. Alex Renton is 19 and had been in this state since April and the angst around him receiving cannabis oil blows my mind.

I’ve have had enough of doses of morphine to know how it works on my body. I don’t generally use substances in quantities that radically alter my senses. But when you have a kidney stone that wonderful poppy extract that is also a form of opiate is medicine! To not be passing out with pain and screaming in agony is good for me and everyone around me.

It’s time we treated cannabis with a lens other than recreational drug use. The default association of substance use and addiction is part of the problem. One reason for this is the history and social construction of what becomes ‘popular’ knowledge. This reinforces polarising so the general social discourses and culture repeat this through all media and discussion. Our language is limited to describe things so we fall into binaries that lock our understanding down for good. Many people only have to see an image of a marijuana leaf on tv and they spin out when they should just take a chill pill.

But why stop with just cannabis? LSD is already back on the research list for assisting people to feel at peace when death is immanent (whatever death is). So to be quite frank, it shouldn’t have needed so much effort for this oil to be given. Enough hand wringing Peter Dunne, we know you aren’t out flogging tinnies to teenagers. Just keep your shoes on, you probably can’t throw that high anyway. But I know a guy who can get you some stuff for that.

Doing the (in)decent thing

Ok, I need to make a disclaimer. This blog contains sexual content, and some really bad puns. However it may or may not be indecent depending on where you are reading this. ‘Where’ doesn’t necessarily mean what country or location. ‘Where’ is your moral and ethical values base located? So what to make of a case in the United Kingdom where a couple have been changed with an ‘indecent act’ during a concert at Hyde Park. I nearly required the heimlich maneuver while reading and eating toast – was not a great time to be masticating.

Briefly: A couple in their late 40’s had imbibed a lot of alcohol and while they guy ‘slept it off’ unconscious his partner decided the music sucked, so took that theme and ran with it so to speak. Apparently when finally interrupted by being arrested there was surprise from the woman that the rules were different in England. I’m wondering how many Welsh folk right now are checking with their local council to see if the grass has been cut recently so they can make grass angels. But this isn’t really what shocked me. What caught my attention was the response from the lawyer defender her in court. He believes even if it did happen it was a bit funny and “did not outrage public decency”. His summation and I quote (unfortunately).

“Let’s think actually there was sucking the penis, nobody is condoning it,”
“Of course it must have upset the sensibilities of some there, it must have caused annoyance”.

I don’t know about you but since when does ‘finding it a laugh’ become the yardstick for whether or not something crosses the line of decency? Because that is pretty much his argument. Here are some of the questions I have:

  • Had they been in their teens, how might their behaviour been perceived?
  • Why didn’t bystanders have concern for the level of consent of the guy involved (assuming there was no indication of a relationship)?
  • Is evidence of ‘arousal’ assumed to be an indication of consent?
  • Would a guy performing the same act on a woman receive the same level of permissive dismissive humour in court?
    If someone of the same gender was performing the act would they have been treated differently by observers and the court?
  • Is filming someone doing something, when in a state of impairment and possibly a vulnerable situation decent? Who should be being charged here?
  • Why is performing a similar act on yourself in public (I’m guessing with the hands rather than the mouth – but hey I suppose there are some who could pull it off) considered indecent, if someone performing on someone else isn’t??

I’m not sure what the outcome of this case will be but it is certainly an interesting situation to explore the complexity of the performing of sexuality in public and how context might permit certain interpretations of pleasure, power, desire and consent. Perhaps a look at the new guidelines for sexuality education from little old Aotearoa could be helpful here, maybe this couple could benefit from being sentenced to a few night classes…maybe not…certainly wouldn’t want them taking too many bathroom breaks.

I just hope whatever the outcome that no-one in that courtroom mouths ‘you’re going down’.

(Many puns were sacrificed in this blog).

Humour Me

When I started running a diversity inquiry group with my friend Philip 8 years ago it never occurred to me that having serious conversations could be so entertaining, or that laughing didn’t necessarily mean losing the threads of meaning. A classic example was a recent meeting when we’d decided to talk about voluntary euthanasia given its topical relevance in the media and the fact that Philip was directly involved. The two of us spent time planning the facilitation, by planning I mean considering the alternative ways to approach the delicate edges of ethical and moral dilemmas without plunging into the pendulum of ‘for and against’ like some Newton’s cradle with the energy passing directly through and simply knocking backwards and forwards.

So lunch time came and I’d scrambled to get the list of words together – not bothering to check my spelling and being more concerned that having this conversation on a mufti day where the theme was pyjamas could seem a little trivialising. Although a panda onesie could almost pass for a suit. When students arrived and started looking at the words there the usual questions began. Starting with the Hippocratic oath. But for some reason I had typed ‘hypo’cratic. Goodness knows where my head had been, but to their credit they wondered about the meaning given hypo as a prefix meant something under. This signalled my awareness to the error so quick correction to hippo and more wondering about hippopotamus until we finally got to Hippocrates the Greek ‘father’ of medicine. The group scooted into a robust discussion about ‘preserving life’ and ‘doing no harm’ and quickly gathered some strands to anchor ideas. As we delicately stepped through the web of sticky questions the weight of some ideas required lighter approaches and at each point someone seemed to pick a moment to bring humour in.

But nothing could prepare us for what happened next. A new person joined 10 minutes in, she had been invited by a friend. The intensity had built and there was a moment of pausing to introduce people before launching back into it. A perplexed look fell over her face as we continued until she piped up ‘I thought you were talking about ‘youth in Asia’” and there it was – the irresistible and contagious explosion of tension which spiralled into a temporary mingling of strands into some bizarre hybrid that allowed us to hold both contradictions. Voluntary youth in Asia and coercion mixed briefly with choice and control and then dissipated. Picking up some dropped lines and sticking them back, the shape of ideas changed as the synergy and balance returned. As we turned toward emotional pain there was another language twist where sanatorium and sanitarium were interchangeable and a momentary picture was painted of mental illness and being treated with cornflakes and weetbix. Ironically the terms can be used interchangeably depending on where you are in the world but in NZ Sanitarium produces the breakfast of champions.

While we all regained our composure and recognised the heavier strands that could scaffold some future thinking it seemed what mattered is it didn’t matter what the law was, or who’s beliefs were right or what evidence was presented. It seemed in the moment that pleasure and pain can only exist because of the presence of the other. That without some medium from which tension can arise there can be no release. In fact if we look at the original meaning of humour it derives from Greek medicine, where the balance of bodily fluids or humours was essential for good health.

Laugher is not trivial or trivialising, in fact it recognises the pain, and dis-ease and makes it bearable for a moment just enough to give space to think the unthinkable and stretch our capacity to hang over the edge and search the face of the void rather than shrinking away in fear.

touchy subject

Hair we go again part2. Right so Mr Key says any ponytail is up for grabs – even a dudes. I find that hard to believe but can respect his belief that he’s an equal opportunity kind of guy. So long as we have no discrimination personal space violation is ok. Once served up on an equality platter it can go with a side of ‘overreaction’ and ‘woops I did it again’.

‘Wandering hands’ aren’t a new phenomenon. The names Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris represent the tip of the iceberg but we all know what is under the water that goes unnoticed and can do significant damage. But because these cases are so extreme our consciousness defaults to a pony tail pull as ‘harmless’ and I can see that in comparison, it seems trivial. But what is lost in all of this is the experience of the person on the receiving end – gender irrelevant. You don’t have to look too far to see the insidious way ‘just being friendly’ and a certain level of power enable people to go unquestioned and those who are upset, offended, become fodder for ridicule and shame. People stop coming forward to report incidents of harassment, abuse or bullying because of precisely what has happened hair.

My sense is we are moving more towards ‘blaming the victim’ culture, by ensuring context is overplayed and individual feelings count for nothing other than to direct them to ‘what they should have done’ instead. The onus is on those who are hurt to ‘get over it’ and this is a dangerous message. Taking responsibility is still watered down and diluted to the point where those on the receiving end are painted as asking for blood rather than a simple human to human acknowledgement that I hurt you and understand why you are hurt. Understanding this as strength rather than weakness is an under appreciated ethic.

Whenever I talk with people who have been abused one thing has always stood out. The person who did the abuse (I’m not about to debate what counts as ‘serious’) was always someone who had respect of others, was viewed as friendly, usually funny and outgoing (but not always), and often maintained a level of esteem in the community. Why? Because it creates a shield of trust.

I’m not saying Mr Key is one of these people, nor am I saying he couldn’t be. That is the point and it needs to pierce the shield.