Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Lawyer uses literature to teach morals and ethics

<rry Buxbaum, Executive Director of the Hennepin County Bar Association, the largest of Minnesota's twenty-one district bar associations, opened his convocation speech by emphasizing the use of literature to teach values and ethics to professionals in a variety of fields. He stated how the idea of using literature and applying it to professionals has been done as a technique to illustrate values and ethical points, and that it engaged a larger portion of the population, because now non-professionals such as non-lawyer administrative assistants working with the professionals, are able to tell them to get off the ethical high-horse because they do not have monopoly of ethics and values. Buxbaum elaborated by emphasizing two types of literature that one reads, such as plays and poetry, and one's own life experience and stating that the latter allows anyone, regardless of their profession, to examine ethical issues.

He exhorted the audience to carefully examine their rich personal experiences and the value they bring to discussions of ethics. He stressed that using literature does not mean that this is literary criticism–we don’t need to debate what the author intended to say with every word, but instead highlighted the participatory element; that small groups examining professional literature facilitated the merging of personal experiences, which effectively highlighted ethical values. He referred to the Swedish play The Visit and how it illustrated that concepts of power, justice, and public and group behavior are all very much entwined, allowing its readers to see that our society has been guided by group hysteria and responses. Buxbaum asked whether ethics were constants, or whether they changed over time.

He noted that sometimes professionals are mistaken in thinking that they have a certain monopoly on knowledge of ethics and beliefs, and that this was a presumptuous mentality. He reinforced his notion of the importance of the personal experience, and mentioned how this tied in with the crucial nature of context. This included cultural and temporal context, and he evoked scenes from Baldwin’s short-story Sonny’s Blues, which illustrated how much of its dynamic was a function of context and its effects. In addition, he mentioned Miller’s The Crucible and its allegorical reference to McCarthyism, further emphasizing the essential role of context. This segued into the assertion that we sometimes assume that our leaders are ethical just because they are our leaders, and how this proved to be largely incorrect. He thus emphasized that since we know our leaders will be setting the tone for those they lead, we should examine the essence between ethical behavior and leadership, and how to combine them.

Buxbaum concluded that not a day goes by where we don’t have a new experience, which leads to introspection and forces us to re-evaluate what we mean by ethical behavior. Through closer examination and teachings of important ethic values illustrated in literature, he hoped this would allow us to grow as leaders, students, and citizens of the world.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *