I just finished a summer ethics class within graduate social work studies. The class was an elective, which surprised me, because for social work clinicians, regularly faced with dilemmas involving client’s differing personal, spiritual, cultural and political belief systems, I’d have thought it would be compulsory.
The reason I chose this, one of four required electives, was for exposure to specific potential challenges and to be taught creative problem solving-strategies and academic approaches to potential bias situations I may encounter down the line.
Throughout class-time, we were asked to look at various scenarios involving what we individually feel is right, is less right and is more right, and to give input on ways to resourcefully work towards resolution. For many hours, we looked at a variety of ethical dilemmas and were guided to, supposedly without allowing judgment, work towards outcomes that could be accepted, if not by all, by most.
And then it came time to work collaboratively on our final “Ethical Dilemma” paper with chosen group members. My group was intentionally just myself and another student who thankfully, thankfully, thankfully, has a similar work ethic to mine. Some of my peers chose larger groups with as many as four students, but since I have “been there, done that” over the past year with group projects, I was not interested in ever again taking a chance by putting my grade in the hands of several other people.
A few days before the paper’s due date, a fellow student called me to ask for advice. Her reaching out to seek peer counsel, was very much part of the strategies we learned in class and is, in fact, something I have used regularly within both my earlier professional life and personal life. I was pleased that she felt comfortable enough to ask for my help. It turns out, the student was dealing with an ethical dilemma within her writing group. This was of course ironic given that the paper was to be an academic template of how to handle another ethical dilemma, one assigned by the professor. She was up against a partner who refused to accept constructive criticism for typos, misspellings, citation errors, or any additions or deletions to her work on their google doc. This, although everyone will receive the same grade on the paper, a grade which will be based beyond content, on each of these things. She asked me what to do.
…As an aside, you really gotta love google docs, really you do. Each time I open one and work with another person simultaneously, I realize that I truly have lived two lives; one as a dinosaur with a typewriter in my undergraduate studies and the other today…
My suggestion to my peer was to make any truly necessary grammatical corrections on their google doc and to ask her group members to help her in letting the other student know that any corrections were by no means personal (I really thought she should say, “get the bleep over it beeeatch,” but that did not seem very ethical). Over the next two days, she reached out several times, because not only did she begin receiving hateful text messages from the group member attacking her character, her ethnicity and her very being, but none of the other group members were availing themselves to help. While wanting to be of service to my friend and to offer helpful suggestions, ethically I knew that I could not be in the middle while only communicating with one side of the challenge, so all I could think to suggest was that she contact the professor, apprise him of the very ironic ethical dilemma on her hands, and ask for his advice (I also told her to be sure to put her shoulders back and her chin up and make sure she kept breathing and stuff like that too though).
She was hesitant to contact the professor, expressing that she did not want to cause any trouble for any of her group members, and finally, because the paper was due, she allowed it to be handed in. Later, she contacted me to let me know that after the deadline, she did in fact, reach out to the professor and received response that there would be communication between him and the entire group. She also said that she was now willing to share what she had experienced. It turns out, the other girl had reached out to the professor as well, so I can only hope that there will be a resolution that is the most right for all concerned.
As for our final paper, my partner and I worked well together for several weeks. We researched, read articles and books, and spoke to political organizations as we garnered data from dozens of citation sources. We edited, re-edited and re-re-edited, so much so that when we handed in our work on the due date, we knew without a doubt that it was an “A” paper; in fact, we were absolutely certain. However, when I woke up this morning, logged on, and saw our posted grade, it was an “A minus.“ My first thought was to be “Ticked off.” This thought was followed by a second thought which was to be VERY “TICKED OFF,” but thankfully, both of these thoughts were quickly followed by a third thought which was a very gentle, loving one. It was the thought of gratitude for the experience, because as much as I really, really hate the minus at the end of that “A,” I feel blessed. The gratitude stemmed from the realization that I could neither put a grade nor a price tag on what I learned outside the classroom, as I tried to help my fellow student with her emotional paper challenge. It stemmed as well from the understanding that, as far as I am concerned, our grade, my partner and mine, is an A+++ for the way we collaborated, learned from one another and kept an open mind as we sought solution. Perhaps, at the end of the day this is all that matters.
What I have realized this year, after waiting with bated breath through more than a dozen classes and two internships for please dear God, please an “A,” is that at the end of the day it is NOT about the “A,” but about what we learn and about what we are willing to take with us out into the world. In my case, within my practice, this will be a fabulously intense desire to be of service and to honor willingness, both my own and that of others.