The Ethics of Change
Engaged as I am in what some might choose to call a “change programme”, I’ve had some occasions to ponder recently the ethics of change.
It is ethical to change people? Even given the truism that we can’t change others, we can only change ourselves, is it ethical to even contemplate changes to a system (the way the work works) with the idea of maybe seeing some behavioral changes in the folks working within that system?
As my ethical system these days is fairly bound up with nonviolence, for me the question resolves to “is asking questions with an intent to raise folks’ awareness actually a kind of violence?”
And given that’s what I’ve been doing recently —asking such questions—how far can one travel down that road before it becomes an act of violence? Put another way, where does “making meaningful connections with folks, through dialogue” end, and “coercion through asking leading questions” begin?
My working position on the question, presently, revolves around the twin notions of informed choice and need.
To the extent that people realise what’s going on, and that they understand that they have a choice whether to participate or not, then I can live with the situation.
In the vernacular of Rosenberg, do folks need some change? If not, then forcing or coercing anyone into change seems to cross the ethical line. But how to broach the question of needs with each individual? Is even asking the question, starting the conversation, on dodgy ground. How about if we ask the question “Would you be willing to have a conversation about the prospect of change here, and what your needs might be therein?”?
What about folks that don’t realise what’s going on? Or have not (yet) understood the optionality of the situation? Does it behove us to do everything possible to help them understand, or is that effort—in the absence of their consent and need for realisation—in itself unethical?