Ethical Reading Director Gill Ringland asked Dr Kleio Akrivou of Henley Business School to share some of the insights she had from teaching ethics to international students.

“Dr Akrivou, you teach ethics at Henley Business School to students from a wide range of cultures, both international students and from within the UK.  Can we explore what we can learn from them? For example, what ethical issues do they find most challenging?”

Students genuinely wish to be part of a better world. While they are diverse, all my students seem to grapple with the question of how we can create a basis for ethical action which is not hugely impacted by nationalist or ideological divides.  We all agree that respect is important but students seem to grapple with how it can be practiced. I talk to them about the (Aristotelian) notion of moderation and moral deliberation as a cross-cultural approach to life. Often students struggle with older generations “absolutistic” approaches to ethics (the ideal that one way or approach or “rule” has to be followed universally).

“Are there cultural differences in the issues that students find challenging?”

Our undergraduate and post-graduate students come from various backgrounds in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Naturally there are cultural differences but I’m surprised to discover this reflects often personal difference in identities and different levels of maturity rather than major ethnic differences. Some students from Western liberal countries sometimes are familiar with “rule based” modern approaches.   But they critically question this approach when we examine cases in which rule-based approaches may justify action which can degrade our humanity, or disregard the well-being of weaker and less vulnerable groups or persons.

Younger students (Y, or echo-boomers) look for real world frameworks which support being human in a way which makes a difference for everyone’s life.    Idealistic philosophers like Kant are interesting for younger students, but mature students from most backgrounds relate to the notion of virtue, which is found from Aristotle to Confucius (and are a little surprised to discover it…).

Students love learning ethics because it is about what allows us to behave according to the best in human condition.

“What approaches do you take to reconcile cultural differences? “

I rely on the students’ own genuine interest in being a good person and leading a good life. In teaching I use my own work (e.g. 2016; 2018 books) which integrates the creation of an ethical community and a “person” centric approach.   I emphasize the role of dialogues and inquiry. I remind students that some things like respect, treating others as we would hope to be treated, forgiveness and humanity, are common values across religions and cultures.

We all seem to agree on the necessity for, and limitations of, “rule” approaches to ethics, and that a  rule approach cannot teach us how to respond in critical moments when we feel “it is personally significant for me” to be part of a genuinely ethical community.  I underline that indeed we live in an increasingly diverse world and “regulatory” approaches have limitations in resolving problems. That we differ is alright because people are complex beings: and within each culture there is more diversity between persons than the diversity across cultures.

I stress that we need to realise our shared humanity and our inter-dependency and genuinely strive for both personal and mutual growth in our relations via all our interactions. This perspective (which captures what I call “inter-processual self”) allows all of us to deeply reflect on and constantly work to respect ourselves while becoming better persons with each other. I recognise key shared values and virtues such as mutual respect, wisdom, fairness and personal and relational integrity, which apply across nationally and culturally differentiated peoples.

Dr Kleio Akrivou (http://www.henley.ac.uk/people/person/dr-kleio-akrivou/)

Associate Professor of Business Ethics & Organisational Behaviour, Academic Director, MSc in Management, Henley Business School, University of Reading, Whiteknights Reading, U.K. & University of Navarra, Spain.