April 01, 2009

Coloroso probes core of ethical behaviour

Barbara Coloroso does not simply give advice to parents. She drives to the core of what it takes to become an ethical human being.

Her appearance at Erin District High School on May 1 is rare opportunity to hear from a big name in the realm of education speakers and a respected author on topics ranging from bullying to genocide.

She will make a presentation at 7 pm in the gymnasium, after a book-signing session at 6:30, thanks to a combined effort by parents from all five Erin schools, and a grant from the Ministry of Education. Parents now can get free tickets through the schools, and the general public can get tickets as of April 10. Email parentconnectionerin@hotmail.com or call 519-833-9665, ext. 520.

Not everyone will agree with Coloroso's views on parenting. It is an idealistic vision, based on treating kids with more dignity and respect, rejecting the simple techniques of punishment and reward that are part of our culture, promoting strategies to empower young people with inner discipline and self-confidence.

That is the main thrust of her best-selling book "kids are worth it", encouraging a parenting approach that helps children grow into responsible, resilient and compassionate adults. Check out kidsareworthit.com.

How do we develop our moral values? Children get many positive messages from parents, teachers and preachers, but our culture often sends a message that the end justifies the means. It is a confusing flood of influences that includes popular bands, TV shows, T-shirt slogans, websites and the evening news. Coloroso tackles the issue of ethics in her book, Just Because It's Not Wrong Doesn't Make It Right.

A former Catholic nun and a mother of three who is based in Colorado, Coloroso has been a classroom teacher and a university instructor, and has written about breaking the cycle of violence and fear in The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. Quoted in Quill & Quire, Canada's book news magazine, she said: "The premise I take on bullying is that it's not about conflict or anger – it's about contempt for another human being."

It is that line of reasoning that took her writing career in a bold new direction, and the publication in 2007 of Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide. It may seem to have little to do with parenting, but the link is in the study of ethics and human nature. The remarkable thing about genocides is that they are not carried out by obvious monsters, but by ordinary people.

Coloroso has made a few visits to Rwanda, working with the orphans of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi people, and lecturing at the National University there. In probing the conditions that lead to violence, both against large groups of people and individuals, she points out common characteristics: victims are seen as less than human, authority is unquestioned and cruelty is portrayed as routine.

The author advocates fighting this weakness by raising a citizenry that cares deeply, shares generously and helps others willingly. At the core, it is about treating others, including our children, the way we ourselves want to be treated.

It is not exactly a new idea, but one that always bears repeating in a new light.