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Civil Groups Blog

Are You A Man Or A Jellyfish?

September 21, 2009

The following is an entry from my CiViL Groups Log on Wednesday, March 24, 2004.  All names have been changed to protect privacy.

The Case for Having A Skeleton

I asked my freshman boys to tell me what a moral code is. They hemmed and hawed as they are tried to think of an answer. Then Leon said, “It’s your characteristics and what you make of yourself.” That’s as good a definition as any.

 A moral code is the skeleton for your character. A jellyfish, which has no skeleton, is at the mercy of the currents. After a heavy ocean storm you can find the bodies of jellyfish washed up on the beach. If you make the mistake of getting in the water while they are being washed ashore, you are likely to run out screaming. Animals with a skeletons can squirm, wriggle, swim, crawl, creep, leap, walk, run, or fly. They control their circumstances because their muscles push and pull against that skeleton to create movement. A skeleton allows an animal to adapt more effectively to the world.

The same thing is also true about a moral code. Having a solid set of values allows us to adapt to a changing world and maintain the course of our lives. We don’t lose our identity just because we change circumstances. We can be the same person in various situations, if we have a moral code.

Integrity, Integration & Integrated Circuits

 I asked the boys to define the word “integrity.” Like most people, they couldn’t. Integrity was the most commonly Googled word in 2004, so a lot of people don’t know what it means, or at least they didn’t before they Googled it. To my boys I defined integrity as “the ability to stay the same in different circumstances.” I also showed them how the word “integrity” is related to the word “integration.” Integration means the blending of different parts of something, while segregation means the separation of parts. They understand the most common modern American use of those words because they have heard from their Aunties and Grandfathers how the world used to be completely segregated and is less so now.  Or they hear about or experience the vestiges of the pre-integration society that still exist in various places in our society. They know all about integration and segregation.

 I took it a step farther and described to them what I think I understand about integrated circuits. An integrated circuit is a group of separate circuits, ones which long ago might be contained in individual tubes in the back of the TV of my childhood or the radio of my father’s childhood. An integrated circuit combines all of those into one little city of circuits on a small circuit board like the ones in a computer. Once again integration is the combining of different parts into one. It is unification.

People Without Integrity 

A healthy person is integrated, not segregated. Once they understand what I”m talking about the boys agree with me about that. They respect people who are the same in all situations. They detest fake, phony people. The boys started telling stories about people who pretend to be something they are not. In their opinions, sports teammates who claim to be good players but are only average lack integrity. Friends who claim to be loyal, then talk about you behind your back lack integrity. Girls who say they love you one day and dump you for your rival the next day lack integrity.

 They brought up a specific issue with a friend who is cheating on his girlfriend. Because of their association him, these boys are getting splashed with his reputation, even though they wouldn’t do what he is doing. We were able to discuss the options and how they can best be a friend to this boy who, in their opinions, is making poor moral choices. They have a strong ethic about staying out of someone else’s business, but at the same time, they realize that they are being branded by this guy’s behavior. That makes it their business too. They decided that it would be wrong for them stand by quietly while their friend does wrong. That’s not real friendship.

What About Me?

Of course it’s easy to describe the lack of integrity in others. It’s another thing to look at your own. I asked the boys to  describe their own moral code by filling in the blanks: “A good man does ____, and a good man doesn’t ____.” They really got into it. We talked about ethics in specific situations, and they asked me what I would do in those situations. Getting them thinking, talking, and asking about moral and ethical matters is the goal of this lesson and this group. Did I tell them what they should believe? Some, but not much. Like most people they have a pretty good understanding of what a good man should do. The problem comes when it’s time to do it. Integrity is an easy concept to understand. The hard part is living it out. That’s when you start to separate the men from the jellyfish. I don’t know yet whether these boys have moral backbone when they need it. We have the rest of the year to talk about that. Today we just got started talking about the need for one.

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