of the 15th Ipce Meeting
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
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.
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
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
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 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:
The proposed text (Human rights in intergenerational relationships, 'First do no harm', in newsletter E 13) has two sections:
The meeting discussing
this, globally accepted the cadre, and concentrated its discussion again on the
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:
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'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
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.
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.
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.