Of Self-Responsibility and Ethical Communication

A discussion on maintaining an ethical lifestyle

As the radio’s music faded out and people took a seat, the warmth in the room came not from the coffee. The warmth the morning of Oct. 16, in fact, came from the welcoming gazes of Dr. Big Mountain and Corrine Girard, who then began their seminar entitled “The Ethics of Interpersonal Engagement.” The event came to life through a collaboration between the Women’s & Diversity Center (WDC) and the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Honors Program. As for the hosts, Girard belongs to the former, whereas Dr. Big Mountain is involved with the latter.

The discussion began with an ice-breaker that requested the guests to choose what words would best describe their decision-making process in a professional setting. The words were organized into two columns, and each decision appeared to be diametrically opposed. As was revealed afterwards, the columns were supposed to represent the “male” and “female” ways of handling the process; however, there appeared to be no correlation of that kind in the audience. The point of this activity, as explained by Dr. Big Mountain, was to demonstrate how one can’t determine how someone will react to something based off physical characteristics alone.

The event then transitioned into covering two case studies, with both demonstrating how a breakdown of communication caused a great deal of discomfort for the affected party. Both of the hosts reasoned that the issue was related to “defensiveness” on the part of the affected parties. As explained in the reference book provided by Dr. Big Mountain, “The Ethics of Interpersonal Relationships” by Dr. Firestone, “We tend to become hostile whenever our defenses are threatened.” Said hostility can often lead to people closing off themselves, which results in whatever conversation was happening becoming unproductive. Dr. Big Mountain was certain to note that, “‘Non-defensiveness’ is key. According to Firestone, defensiveness is what is getting in the way of ethical lifestyles.” 

According to Dr. Big Mountain, “Focusing on seeking to understand others has allowed me to excel in my career as I was able to finalize a bilateral contract between two governments due to my focus on ethical compassion-based communication rather than power-wielding forceful comms. This accomplishment allowed me to earn an Officer of the Year award while working in a Muslim country. Ethical interpersonal engagement can change the world, especially considering how politically and emotionally charged many public forums become.”

Thus, the hosts linked the two case studies by juxtaposing defensive and non-defensive responses. Overall, the audience concluded that it would’ve been better for all involved if the affected parties communicated what they were feeling. By not doing so and shutting down their emotions, they brought far more trouble onto themselves than there needed to be. Although the other people in the studies instigated the situation, the root cause of the issue was a lack of personal responsibility; this was the consensus as the seminar came to a close.

Upon reflecting on the discussions that took place, Dr. Big Mountain shared that her favorite part about hosting the event was, “Facilitating leadership case studies to help peers demonstrate and practice ethical responses that build trust in each other rather than defensiveness.” She also wanted to emphasize that “Engaging others with compassion rather than judgement allows us to live a life of integrity.” As for people struggling with communication at the moment, she recommends that they “Listen compassionately without judgement and ask [themselves] ‘What am I doing to cause this perceived conflict?’”

In terms of future events, Dr. Big Mountain hopes to host a discussion on “How our own approach to self-leadership is holding us back from the happiness and trust-filled relationships we seek.” She’ll also be teaching Honors 250 for the final time during the Spring 2020 semester, and wanted to note that the course will be open to students outside of the Honors program. The class will focus on “strengthening ‘Peer Leadership’ applications through community service projects”, and she hopes that there will be a big turnout of people interested in strengthening their leadership skills.