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Report of the 15th Ipce Meeting

 1. The discussion about ethics


Several years ago, in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, we discussed ethics. We developed four principles or guidelines. Last year, in Berlin, we took up the thread. Tom presented a lecture, published in the Ipce Newsletter E 12, in which there is also an introductory article by me. Discussion followed on the IMO List. Let’s now try further to develop ideas about ethics.   

To refresh our memories: the four principles were seen as good in certain situations, but generally too limited and partly contradictory. The principles speak about avoiding a bad situation, but have no positive goal or fundamental expression of what is good.  The principle of openness, especially, was seen as a debatable one.  

The idea was to maintain the four principles, but regard them as thoughts, not as rules, and to put them into a broader frame and add more thoughts. There is a try-out or a proposal for such ideas in Newsletter E13.

What follows is a report of the discussion at the meeting.  

About ethics

A text about ethics is more or less descriptive of a utopia. The guidelines it gives are ideals to strive for. If those guidelines are meant as global guidelines or principles, the text will inevitably look like a theory, and thus for some people, more or less nebulous. Nobody can give exact rules for every situation. Such a text provides concepts to have in mind and to take into consideration. One should, however, still make a case-by-case judgment. Therefore, ethical guidelines should also be practical enough to be used in a concrete situation - and thus be more or less tied to an actual culture and era, hence not eternal. Ethics change in the course of time, in the course of the discourse. 

Ethics are not plucked from the air; they have a fundament. For some people religion provides their ethics. For us, there are two ethical sources: human rights and reasonable thinking.   

Our ethics

Our society has its rules and ethics about mutual relationships and intimacy between children or adolescents and adults. Keep your distance is the rule; fear of sexuality is its basis. In our vision, this is not ethical. But we are also part of this society.  

This double position, criticizing the society we are a part of, results not only in our handing out sharp criticism, but also in formulating ethical principles that are acceptable to the same society.  

Why should we formulate our own ethics? There are several reasons:

Every group of humans should develop its own ethics,

Members, and especially young and new members, ask for some guidelines, and

Society, for example journalists and interviewers, ask for our opinions. If we have no answer, it may appear that we have no ethics at all. 

The four guidelines

The proposed text (Human rights in intergenerational relationships, 'First do no harm', in newsletter E 13) has two sections:

the text about the four guidelines or principles, and

the cadre made around these guidelines.

The meeting discussing this, globally accepted the cadre, and concentrated its discussion again on the four guidelines. 

The first three principles are more or less the same, or at least based on the same more basic principle: freedom of choice. The second principle, initiative, is doubtable. The fourth principle is also doubtable and has another base. 

Thus, if we stop numbering the principles and make one text from the first three, changing the name of the second principle, and then adding the fourth one as a following text, a more logical text will appear.  


The original text states:  

Even in a later stage of the relationship, it is always the children who make the choice to have sex.” 

To be very practical: everyone who reads the word 'sex' in this context will interpret it as 'penetration'. That’s not what we mean to say. We mean 'intimacy' in its many grades. 

Then, the concept of initiative is based on a wrong idea: the idea that in a loving relationship one or the other takes the initiative to a next step in intimacy. It's the theory of seduction, which, in society's view, is always performed by the adult. So, as a kind of defence, we have said, 'Do not take the initiative'. But in a loving relationship, each initiative is taken by one and the other, by one with the other. Each initiative is only a proposal to the other and the other will respond to it.  

It's not realistic to say 'Do not take any initiative'. What we want to say is: ‘Be very attentive to the answer and the feelings of the other’. If the other says 'no', it is 'no'. What we want to say is: the grade of intimacy in any relationship will be decided by both partners in communication with each other, both having freedom of choice and the right to self-determination.  

So, in talking about any relationship, one should always mention both partners, and the rights and responsibilities of both. The adult may have some more responsibilities, the young one also has responsibility and the adult also has rights.

Both partners are members of a society, which generally now has other ethical principles and which especially denies young people their right to self-determination. This is an extra consideration to have in thought for the responsibility of both partners.

In earlier discussions it was said that there are not only (long-lasting) relationships, but also (shorter) contacts.  Ethical guidelines should mention both. 

New text: 

Freedom of choice
In any intergenerational relationship or contact, both partners, the adult as well as the young person, have it in their power to regulate their own lives, their relationships and the grade of intimacy. 
Each partner has the right to self-determination and the responsibility to acknowledge this right in the other. Therefore, both partners in open communication will at any moment choose the grade of intimacy. 
In friendship relationships or contacts, both partners have the freedom to withdraw from the relationship at any moment. Love and dedication are unconditional; they bind partners who are free and independent.
In dependency relationships or contacts, (such as parent-child or teacher-pupil) love and dedication should also be unconditional, but freedom to withdraw does not exist in practice. So, extra attention should be given to the right to self-determination and the responsibility of both partners. Here, the grade of intimacy has two limits: complete distance is not possible nor wanted, complete intimacy will interfere with the dependency: complete intimacy asks for complete freedom, which does not exist in dependency relationships.

The grade of openness

Openness is a typical western value; many other cultures have the value to respect and maintain secrets. Openness within a relationship is a good value. Openness to others is a good value as long as they respect one's right to self-determination. So, openness to others may be good, but it is not always necessary and not always possible. For example, intimacy between males is still a great taboo, for instance, in most schoolyards. Or, in many families, the very existence of any form of a sexual life of a young person is a taboo.

Many young people prefer consciously to have their own secrets. They make their own choices and do not want to be protected. ‘Don’t treat me as a child’, they say. It is their right to have this freedom. The freedom to say no and the freedom to say yes. There is also a right of privacy.
The other side of the coin is that young people should not have to carry too heavy or unreasonable secrets. One has to take into consideration how the young person lives and how his environment may react.

Do no harm

Harm can come from feelings of shame and dirtiness, learned from society. Harm can come from a society that uses power or violence to force the end of a relationship. One should consider this risk, as well as the risk of blackmail. The adult as well as the young person is vulnerable in this society nowadays.

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