On April 7, Dr. Dharamsi delivered the closing keynote address at the 2013 CAHSMUN Conference the largest high school conference of its kind in Western Canada. He reminded students that in his presentation at last year’s conference he challenged the taken-for-granted view that education serves primarily as a vehicle for monetary success and social status. In his 2012 speech, he pointed out that cheating and plagiarism are rampant in Canadian high schools and universities and that academic misconduct in North American post-secondary institutions is on the rise across a broad range of disciplines. He expressed concern that some of these students will also become our next generation of health professionals, teachers, lawyers, engineers, politicians and business executives – a workforce whose sense of social responsibility and ethical judgment will be negatively influenced by this serious disregard for intellectual honesty, and the failure to discern the ethical consequences of their decisions and actions.
The delegates were asked if they thought matters had improved since his last presentation. By a show of hands, most of the delegates indicated that they believed things were getting worse. Unfortunately, they may be right. Dr. Dharamsi observed three very recent events that would appear to suggest that things are not changing much: Earlier this year several Harvard students were implicated in a cheating scandal; more recently it was discovered that university students are using cognitive enhancing stimulants, like ADHD medications (aka study drugs), for the purpose of boosting performance at school; and just days before the CAHSMUN conference CBC News revealed that some very wealthy Canadians use illegal tax havens to evade taxes, costing Canadians billions of dollars.
Dr. Dharamsi explained that part of the problem might be attributed to hyper-competitiveness in the world – doing whatever it takes to get ahead and where anything less than being on top is not an option. Hypercompetition tends to encourage highly aggressive behaviours where one’s measure of self-worth comes from the voracious desire to win at any cost. Researchers in this area indicate that hypercompetition attracts egocentric biases, the attitude that “winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing,” and the ability to ignore ethical concerns. Lance Armstrong is but one example. Delegates were asked to name the fastest runner in the world and the name Usain Bolt came up immediately. They were asked to name the second and third fastest persons, and also the fastest women. Nobody could remember. Not only is recognition of achievement particularly gender biased, it is also troublesome that although only a tenth of a second separates many top runners we only remember, recognize and value the winner. We live in a world that has become so hypercompetitive that many have come to believe that if you’re not first, you’re nothing— the message is that it’s simply not enough to be on the Bloomberg Billionaires list, you must be first on that list. This mentality is not only harmful and socially unsustainable, it’s leading to serious ethical failures in society.
The delegates were asked to reflect on what they learned about the nature of conflict and how conflict is best resolved as they debated and deliberated during their simulation activities modeling the United Nations. He asked what impressions they formed about current events, topics in international relations, diplomacy and the United Nations agenda. Drawing on the work by Hossain and Roshan Danesh in the area of conflict resolution, Dr. Dharamsi posed the following questions: Do you view the world as a predominantly hostile place where resolving conflict requires an adversarial approach in which ‘opponents’ and ‘disputants’ come together in confrontation? Or, do you see the world where resolving differences is not about achieving personal and individual gain but about building and preserving relationships? Do you come to learn about the deepest concerns and values that shape and influence the everyday lives of different peoples around the world? Do you see a world in which people are interdependent and interconnected and where individuals and groups across nations can only attain personal goals when and only when the others with whom they are linked can attain their goals; or do you see a world where ‘might is right’ and where individualism, self-interest and winning at all costs are dominant features of society?
Dr. Dharamsi concluded by suggesting to the CAHSMUN attendees that all of their decisions and actions ought to first and foremost have an unwavering respect for human dignity, and this means that it would be ethically unacceptable to use another person solely as a means toward even legitimate ends. Citing the work of Frederick Bruce Bird, The Muted Conscience, he explained that we cannot remain morally blind, not seeing moral concerns and or recognizing harm and injustice; we cannot remain morally deaf, not hearing concerns about harm; and we cannot remain morally mute, failing to speak up when harm is being done and to speak up for integrity and social responsibility.
In closing, he asked if the words of Nelson Henderson can still ring true today: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
2. Langevoort DC. The organizational psychology of hyper-competition: Corporate Irresponsibility and the lessons of Enron. The George Washington Law Review. 2002;70(5/6):968-975. (http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1142&context=facpub)
3. Danesh HB, Danesh R. Has conflict resolution grown up? Toward a developmental model of decision making and conflict resolution. International Journal of Peace Studies. 2002;7(1):59-76.
4. Bird, Frederick B. (1996). The muted conscience : moral silence and the practice of ethics in business. Westport, Conn : Quorum Books