Civic Engagement lecture recap

04/13/18

Integrity, truth virtue: Bluffton’s campus community explores honor in the world

Dr. Jonathan Andreas, associate professor of economics, opened the Civic Engagement lecture at Bluffton University with a simple question: “What makes the world go round?”

“I’m an economist, and I am here to tell you that it is not money,” joked Andreas. Instead, Andreas believes notions of honor hold societies together. “Without some amount of honor, capitalism would fall apart.”

During the lecture titled, “Worthy of Honor,” Andreas further explored Bluffton’s Civic Engagement theme, “Integrity, Truth, Virtue: Bluffton's honor code in the world," a topic that students, faculty and staff have been discussing the entire year. 

For Andreas, there are two forms of honor: one’s own virtue, integrity, or character and one’s bestowal of respect, distinction or privilege on others.

Communities, including families, churches, governments and businesses, explained Andreas, are held together by a code of honor. Many times, these honor codes become the societal norms of the community and can have a positive impact.  

“Communities help us choose the values that benefit the community and help us uphold the values,” said Andreas. “That is partly what church is about. You don’t need a church community to have good values, but a church community can help you define your values and keep you from temptation.”

At Bluffton, the honor code, mission statement and four enduring values help set the norms for the campus community and enhance the educational experience.

However, Andreas explains, honor can also be used to elicit violence and war. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Bin Laden came to power through genocide and terrorism, “yet they all thought what they were doing was honorable.”

Because of the dual nature of honor, defining it is very difficult.  “What is honorable is different for different groups of people in different parts of the world. It’s easy to think that we do is honorable and what everyone else is doing is dishonorable,” explained Andreas.

For example, honor killings used to be more commonplace in the United States. “One of our founding fathers murdered another because of a trivial dispute,” Andreas told the crowd. “Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury, was killed by Aaron Burr, the vice president, in broad daylight and in front of witnesses in a duel. Dueling was what honorable people did.”

Of course, killing somebody through a duel would be reprehensible by today’s standards, but the example highlighted how norms of honor are constantly changing.

How do today’s students decipher what is honorable and what is not? Through careful reasoning and relationship building.

“I want students to start thinking about ethics and thinking about the communities we are a part of—the organizations, the churches, all of it—and about if the leaders are honorable and holding people accountable. I want them to think about who are their friends,” said Andreas. “It’s a call to be intentional in thinking about their priorities. Go-with-your-gut ethical reasoning can sometimes work out, but it can also lead you astray.”

Andreas’ presentation was followed by Civic Engagement Day on April 11. The daylong event featured more than 25 sessions led by students, faculty and staff ranging from a coaches panel on integrity in athletics to an interactive event on ethical dilemmas such as cheating.   

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