Taking stock as an ethical imperative

Recently I stated a feeling that taking stock of any group interaction (including a class, a workshop, a meeting) is an ethical imperative.  After thinking through how to support that notion, as laid out below, I have concluded that the ethic of taking stock derives from the ideal that people should not be coerced.

First, what do I mean by taking stock?  A: Making space to reflect using various tools or processes before proceeding either from one phase to another or on from an activity or event (see Refractive practice).  This space makes it more difficult to simply continue along previous lines, opening up possibilities of alternative paths to proceed.

1.  If a person takes stock as a routine they will end up less likely to look back with regret on a path they persisted on — less likely because any path will have been chosen in tension with alternatives.

2. If a group takes stock so that everyone’s voice gets raised and acknowledged, then, even when the group decides to move along a certain path, doing so will be less like a workhorse with its blinkers on and more like someone who can look left and right to remind themselves of the wider context and tensions even as they move along that path.

2a. Moreover, in conjunction with #1, a participant clarifies whether they are in the group wholeheartedly or on what terms.  Participants may realize that the group’s path is one in which they no longer feel creative or hope-full.

3. Group convenors ask for many person-hours of time and, as acknowledgement of that, should show whether the goals of convening the group have been met.   Taking stock of that requires the goals to be defined and made explicit beforehand.

3a. As a bonus, given #2, taking stock with the group as a whole may allow new or revised goals to be articulated.

4. Convenors of some experimental group process are not only asking for person-hours of time (see #3), but, because they are asking for participants to learn something new, they should build in taking stock to show that they too are prepared to learn so as to improve.

4a. As a bonus, building taking stock into experimental group process encourages participants to convene their own experiments by providing a model of the “social contract” (#4) that links the request of others with the responsibility of the convenor.

Now, the ethics of all this seems easier to articulate negatively:  If a person does not do #1, it is more likely that they will end up regretful.  (Recall “I have left undone the things I ought to have done and done things I ought not to have.”)  If a group does not do #2, it is more likely that some member will feel coerced by the path chosen.  If a group convenor does not do #3, it is more likely that they will end up having wasted people’s time.   Ditto for #4 and people may feel toyed with.

This negative articulation leads to a sense that the positive ethic in taking stock is respect. Respect for: internal personal heterogeneity (#1); heterogeneity within a group (#2); time devoted to the group (#3 & #4); and everyone as learners (#1, #2a, #3a, #4a).  This last item points to the need for group support for a person to learn through trying out something new (#4).  That support can be more readily given if participants in the experimental process know that there will be stock taking.

Ad additional angle on the ethics is that taking stock of multiple voices (#2) may or may not be well reflected in subsequent goals set by a group convenor (#3).   Being able to see this helps a group member define the conditions of their participation or withdrawal (#2a).  Indeed, in practice, the absence of taking stock is one way group convenors (#3) — including the boss, administration, or so-called leaders — coerce people into continuing along paths that are not creative or hope-full, which they end up regretting.  In this light, the ethic of taking stock follows from the ideal that people should not be coerced.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

One Response to Taking stock as an ethical imperative

  1. Pingback: Evaluation of academic leaders | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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