Topic 1: Being Greedy
It’s Emma’s best friend’s birthday and it’s been a terrific party – lots of great games and tons of good food. Now the birthday cake is brought out, and it looks magnificent. The slices are passed around, and everyone agrees that the cake tastes even better than it looks. Emma eats hers quickly, and then notices that there is one piece left over. Although she’s feeling really full, she asks her friend’s mum whether she can have it.
Is Emma being greedy?
In the first topic for Stage 2, Being Greedy, we encourage students to think about what it is to be greedy and what, if anything, is wrong with it. Students are encouraged to think for themselves about:
- How to draw the line between ‘reasonable wants’ and greed
- Their wants (or desires) and some of the factors that shape them
- The extent to which resources are limited
- Whether it is important to reflect carefully on their wants if resources are limited.
Greed is a theme that features in many stories though out time. In this topic we consider the Ancient Greek story of King Midas whose touch turned everything to gold, the Magic Pudding who provided an endless supply of food for its companions, and Dr Seuss’ character the Once-ler, whose Thneed factory decimates the Truffula trees in The Lorax. These stories establish circumstances and a context which help children to discuss the abstract notion of greed.
By talking it through with their classmates, children can formulate reasons and listen to the reasons of others, and gain a deeper understanding of what might constitute greed and what are the possible impacts.
Topic 2: Is Lying Wrong?
What would it be like if everyone lied whenever they felt like it?
Is lying the same as not telling the truth?
This topic encourages students to think about what it is to lie and what, if anything, is wrong with lying, as well as to consider the role circumstances play in moral decision making.
Lying is wrong, or so we are taught. And yet we all do it, often without thinking much about it. Or perhaps we don’t tell an ‘outright’ lie, but simply withhold information and don’t tell the ‘whole’ truth.
Perhaps our lies are all ‘white’ lies, told out of concern for others rather than from any malicious intent. It is an interesting exercise to count the number of times in a day we engage in such practices; to think about which, if any, of them count as acts of lying and how, if at all, these practices differ morally.
And there is another question worth considering: What does our engagement in such practices reveal about the extent to which we value truth? This question might well be asked of public figures in our society, including politicians, prominent sporting figures and high profile lobby groups.
As is the case with other ethical concepts like stealing and greed, it is easy to point to paradigm cases of lying. For example, a detective asks a suspect, “Where were you at 8 o’clock last night?” and the suspect replies, “At home”, when in fact he was busy burgling a shop.
The suspect knowingly makes a false statement, with the intention of deceiving their questioners. And in the absence of mitigating circumstances, pretty much everyone would agree that in doing so, the suspect is doing something wrong.
But what do we say about the following examples? Jack’s mum calls out, “Are you out of bed yet?” and Jack, who is still tucked under the blankets, replies, “Who wouldn’t be out of bed when bacon and eggs are cooking?”
Is Jack lying? He hasn’t made a false statement – or indeed, any statement at all – but presumably his evasive response is designed to give his mum the idea that he is out of bed. His intention is still to deceive. And whether or not we call this lying, this question remains: Is there any moral difference between lying and evading a question?
Students begin the topic Is Lying Wrong? by considering consider two classic fables – The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Aesop’s tale Mercury and the Woodcutter.
Lying has a dire consequence for the boy who cried wolf. Having pretended to the villagers on numerous occasions that the sheep are under attack, the villagers choose to ignore him when eventually, terrified, he screams the truth about a wolf.
On the other hand, the Woodcutter prizes honesty so highly that he puts it before personal gain: he is such an honest chap that he gives up the opportunity to acquire an axe of gold and an axe of silver, just by truthfully denying ownership of them and happily laying claim only to his trusty old run-of-the-mill axe.
Students then turn their thoughts to everyday scenarios. Sofia thinks the bracelet Jo bought for her birthday is ugly, but what should she say when Jo asks her directly if she likes it?
Intan is embarrassed by the cupcakes she made for the cake stall as they didn’t rise properly and the icing looks messy. A couple of other children point to the plate, laughing, and ask “who made those ones?”. Intan shrugs her shoulders and says she doesn’t know.
Some people will hold that lying is permissible, or even the right thing to do, when it brings about more good than harm. Others will argue that lying is either always wrong or permissible only in very dire circumstances, such as when telling the truth would result in serious injury or death. In this topic we invite students to think for themselves about these issues, with the aim of encouraging them to engage in ethical reflection before taking a decision to lie.
FOR EXTRA FUN – PODCAST:
The ABC Short and Curly team explore these ideas in their podcast Is it ever okay to lie?