Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Courage Under Fire

Have you ever failed to voice your opinion because you feared the consequences? What was the situation? Why didn't you have the courage to speak? Please respond prior to class Tues., April 14.

20 comments:

Scott Broskie said...

When I was maybe eight years old my younger brother and I got into a disagreement. The topic of the argument is lost at this point in time but the events are part of my family’s history. My mother was in the bathroom getting ready for work and my brother and I got into a fight in the kitchen, we started throwing things for the refrigerator at one another. Soon as the second egg was thrown my mother burst into the room screaming and I said that my brother was throwing the eggs and that he had started the fight and I had nothing to do with it. Since I was older my mother took what I said as truth but I don’t think I was completely truthful. If I would have taken the blame for the eggs I would lose privileges like watching TV or playing with friends and I might have thrown my brother on the mercy of my enraged mother. The act was selfish, I guess I didn’t stand up for him because it was self preservation and if I had the courage I could have explained it was both of us and not just him.

Kelsey said...

When I was in 11th grade I played on the volleyball team for my high school. Most of the girls had played together for quite some time together and I was the odd one out. Girls would confide in me knowing that I would never say anything they told me to anyone else. From backstabbing stories to drinking stories, I was like an encyclopedia. I knew the most ridiculous facts about everyone on the team and it made me sick. When a fight broke out amongst the team, I had one piece of information that could have ended it before it developed. Instead, I didn't speak because I was petrified of overstepping my boundaries as the odd one out. Ever since that year however, I have never something like that happen to me again.

Christine Picault said...

When I use to work at a pet store on Lexington Ave I was told something that I immediately did not agree with. The pet store I worked for was not one of the pet stores I was accustomed to. Everything was very expensive, especially the puppies due to being pure breeds. One day I had asked a salesman, in front of a customer, how much one of the puppies were because I was interested in buying one (but not anymore due to the price.) My boss pulled me to the side and had asked me never to ask the salesmen questions about pricing during business hours. One of my fellow employees had explained to me that they ask us not to do that because they do not have set prices, and they tell customers prices based on how much money they look like they have. I felt that that was very wrong, because they looked at the appearance of people and assumed whether their customers were wealthy or not.
The reason I did not have the courage to speak was because I was a new employee, and I didn't want to get fired. I was not suppose to involve myself in their "business." I quit a week later, and it was not because of what was going on but due to the crazy hours I was forced to work, but that's another issue.

Amy said...

I landed my first job senior year of high school at a small perfume/jewelry store in my town. I quickly became friends with a girl who had been working there for several months, and was a year younger than me. We got along extremely well, and one time, completely by accident, I let slip how much I was getting paid. Immediately, her face fell and she said, "...You make that much?" Apparently, our bosses were paying her about $1.50 less than me per hour, when she had been working there for several months longer than I had, and she had also come into the job with more experience than I had. The only thing I could attribute her lower salary to was the fact that she was black, and I'm white.

She ended up quitting, and I never confronted my bosses about how utterly unfair it was for them to pay employees unequal salaries on ridiculous grounds. I was so morally opposed to what they were doing, but I loved my job so much and was terrified of either losing it or making the work environment so tense that I couldn't stand it. I said nothing to my bosses, and instead I got reprimanded for letting slip how much they were paying me. It wasn't fair at all, but I wanted to maintain my good relationship with my bosses. It was a selfish decision, and I really wish I had the courage at the time to quit right along with my coworker.

Bridget said...

Throughout my pre-teen and early teenage years I can remember my Mom and her family being in an almost constant state of feud. The fights would come and go, some months they would be worse and other months they would slake off. Some of the issues that were being fought over I knew about and could understand. Some I didn't figure out until years later. And still others I understood on some level, but desperately didn't want to acknowledge. Regardless, I knew something wrong was happening. My sister and I would go to family parties that Mom wasn't invited to and we still had contact with our Aunts and Uncles. There were times when both my sister and I wanted to stand up and say something. We didn't though. We were raised to respect our elders and when we were young children our aunts and uncles were a large part of our lives. It was the whole raised by a village concept in our family. I never knew how to say what needed to be said, and I knew that even if I did say something it would be dismissed (and I would be punished). They would just say I was too young to understand (and at 11 maybe I was. By the time I was 16 I had a good grasp of the issues at hand though). It wasn't until I went to college that I finally realized I could stand up for Mom and not be dismissed as a silly child. Mostly the fight has wound down and everyone gets along now. On the rare occasion that it does flair up though both my sister and I make sure there is no doubt as to where we stand and who we support. I don't know how much of our early reluctance was a simple lack of courage, or the natural desire of children to respect all their loved elders and an inability to reconcile that love with actions we disagreed with. I don't know how different things would be now if we had spoken up when it first started. I do know that I will never stand by and let the family gang up on another family member again, though.

Jennifer said...

I took a science class a few semesters ago for GE credits and a few friends of mine were also in the class. Somehow, a girl I knew gained access to the professor's computer files, which included answers to multiple choice exams. Before each test, the students would print the answers and copy them on a sheet of paper in very small writing for reference during the exam. It was a big lecture hall, so the teacher didn't notice that it was going on. I knew it was happening, though, and although I did not participate, I didn't have enough courage to tell them that what they were doing was wrong, let alone to tell the professor. They were people I had known since freshman year, and I felt it would have jeopardized our friendship. I felt very sorry for our Professor that semester because he was completely clueless to what was going on. I also felt a sense of guilt through each exam I sat through; I was ashamed about my unspoken knowledge of the cheating. Not only that, but I was angered by the fact that these people were getting equal if not better grades than myself when I was actually studying for the tests.
The Professor has since been fired because he really wasn't a good teacher, but he still didn't deserve the cheating that went on in his classroom. No teacher, or other student for that matter, does.

Deidre Drewes said...

I'd have to say that this is a hard question to answer. When I come into situations like this, where I fear the consequences, I'm generally outspoken. However, there is one situation that sticks out in my mind. About three years ago, I was romantically involved with a boss at work. I preferred to keep our relationship private because he was my superior; however, he felt it was appropriate to detail our relationship to other co-workers and to make sexual jokes at my expense on the clock. The day I quit the company he had called me an "immature fucking slut", and I slammed down my store keys and walked out. I had been disrespected and sexually harassed at work; however, I felt it was my own fault since I was involved with this person. I was on the fence of whether or not I should report his abuses, and finally just decided to let the dust settle and be on my way. If I had reported it, my integrity would have been in question, I would have looked like a whore, or even the girl who cried wolf. Come to find out, nearly every single female that worked for him had experience some type of harassment from him, and no one else had reported it. The repercussions of not reporting the situation now seem worse: I allowed him to think his actions were acceptable, and he continued to harass other females that worked for him further down the road. Needless to say, my lack of documentation on the situation got me nowhere. He recieved a promotion and praise from his supervisors, and I had to find a new job. Would I ever put myself in the same situation again? Hell no.

Meg Zanetich said...

This past Christmas my siblings and I were having dinner at my dads house. It was my sister, two brothers, my dad and his long time girlfriend Kelly. We dont all get along with her, but we pretend to for the sake of my dads feelings. Needless to say, like always, a heated discussion came up about my 16 year old brothers grades. Kelly, my dads girlfriend, also has a 16 year old son, but never once in the conversation did his poor grades come up. My sister and I just sat there as Kelly bad mouthed my dads parenting skills. We were all just silent. She made it a point to make him seem like a non involved parent, when that is not the case at all. Not only did she talk about my dad like this, but mentioned my mom. My sister and I were heated but we did not say anything. Shes older than me, but I am the more outspoken one, so I felt my siblings were looking to me to say something in defense of our parents, but I didnt. I didnt want to put my dad in an akward situation or make Kelly feel attacked. But I walked away from that dinner table feeling like a jerk for saying nothing. I know now that I couldnt just walk away and not defend my family. I really regret not saying anything.

Tyler said...

I have never handled change well - particularly within the routines of my family, as, since I've moved away, those routines are all I have left when I go home.
That said, this past Christmas was easily the only Christmas I can look at negatively. It started off the same as usual: my nephew woke me up at 6 in the morning and we went downstairs to look at the presents. Problem was, whether it was my mother's fault or my sister's fault (the debate still rages today), my nephew's stocking was left unfilled. Strike 1.
Normally, after we open presents, my mom teases my tastebuds with delicious french toast, which I usually end up choking on because it tastes so good. But this year, she opted to make some shitty, bland fritatta. Strike 2.
After that, my sister and nephew eventually went home, and my mother and father took my grandmother to see "Marley and Me," while I was left home, by myself, on Christmas, for the first time ever. Strike 3.
Is Christmas not a time that is meant to be spent as a family? To this day, I feel almost betrayed by my family for the way such an abnormal Christmas ended. As far as voicing my opinion, I still have not yet spoken to my mother about how depressed it made me. Since I'm not home as much as she'd like me to be, I'm afraid to let her know because I don't want to make her unhappy. I may have had the courage to tell her I hated the fritatta, but I don't have the courage to break her heart.

Ryan Smith said...

My best friend was my partner in crime throughout high school; we were on the cheerleading team together and were basically attached at the hip from the moment we met in 8th grade. She was always the “bad ass” of the group. She was the first to smoke pot, cut class, party with boys and she even got me to sneak out of my house in the middle of the night while my overprotective detective father was asleep. I always sort of envied her rebellious ways. It was no surprise that when the drug Oxycodone flooded my high school my party girl best friend was instantly hooked. I remember holding her hair back in the school’s bathroom while she threw up from all the drugs she was snorting throughout the day. I had no idea that this addiction would later become life threatening.
After months of abusing this opiate I started to see less and less of my friend being that all she cared about was getting high. When I decided to go away to college I wrote her a letter begging her to stop. I told her how I feared for her safety and how I just wanted my best friend back. She promised that she would stop and that she was cutting down. I heard every excuse and lie for the next three years.
Everyday I contemplated telling her parents about her drug addiction but I was too afraid. I was afraid of loosing my friend forever and also afraid of her mom’s reaction. I couldn’t find the right words and felt guilty for condoning her addiction for so many years. Last semester I hadn’t heard from her in almost six months when I received a phone call that will haunt me for the rest of my life. One of my other best friends called me in hysterics to inform me that our drug addicted friend was in the hospital. She had been abusing heroin and tried to quit on her own. After a few days of withdrawals her parents had to call the ambulance because she was so sick. I immediately got in my car and drove to the hospital. I will never forget the look on my friends face when I walked through the door; she immediately started to cry and was just so embarrassed. I saw her dad sitting next to her and I was more embarrassed than she was. I was so ashamed at how weak I was. I thought about all the times I looked the other way and thought that it wasn’t my place to tell her business. If I would’ve opened my mouth when she first got into drugs this entire mess would have been avoided. Who knows where my friend would be today. Opiates caused her to drop out of collage, they got her arrested, she damaged her beautiful Cadillac while high on heroin, and she lost a bunch of her close friends. I actually just spoke with her recently and she has been clean for over 100 days which makes me proud, but I will forever regret my lack of courage to get her the help she needed sooner.

Matthew Conti said...

I think at some point we all have a situation or situations were we find it hard to voice our opinions because we fear the consequences. One that pops into my head now took place years ago when I was much younger. I personally hated going to church when I was young because I didn’t believe in what they told me and I thought that it was pointless to have to go to a designated building for pray and reflection. I’m not saying that I don’t believe in a higher power, but what I am saying is that I don’t believe in the way people just fall into line because of what a book or person of “power” says. I was taken to church ever week as a child and every week I would never tell my mom how I felt about the structure. I wouldn’t tell her that it was pointless to pray at a church because if I wanted and if God was always listening to me then I could pray in the bathroom and it would mean the same. I feared what my mom would say if I told her and I thought she would be mad. I turns out as I got older she let go a bit and I was able to tell her how I felt and she excepted it even if she doesn’t agree. So in the end you really need to have the courage to voice what you think because it will feel better to get it out and you allow yourself to be you.

Marcy said...

My aunt lives next door to one of her best friends. My aunt is a single mother, so the friend’s husband often helps my aunt out by doing yard work and odd jobs around the house. He even for years has taken my male cousin fishing and hunting, things he should normally do with his father. In general, I always thought of him as a pretty good guy and a family friend.

On one occasion, we were having a small party at my aunt’s house, and the adults had one too many drinks. My aunt’s friend’s husband started to yell racial slurs and how “minorities can’t be trusted”. Not only does my aunt have neighbors for many different backgrounds, but there were young children attending the party. Although everyone looked in a different direction, no one tried to stop what he was saying or asked him to leave.

Although I did leave and took the children with me, I didn’t speak up. I think it was because I found the situation so awkward; I assumed someone older then me would step in. What really disappointed me was though my parents looked extremely uncomfortable, they didn’t speak up either. Eventually, everyone just left the party very early.

Arantza said...

This may sound really stupid but it made me feel guilty and I should've done something about it but instead I went with along with it.

One day my friend and I were at the supermarket because we wanted to make pizza. We didn't have too much money on us but enough to get all of our ingredients. We then realized we needed to buy some special pan to actually cook it on, so we went to go get that too. We put it in the cart and headed towards the cash registers. We went to one of those do-it yourself ones, and as we were scanning all of our items my friend wouldn't scan the pan. I gave him a weird look but all he did was give me a look like "shut up." So we finished up, paid for the scanned items and left. So it turns out that we stole that stupid pan thing. I know its not THAT big of a deal and it was only a few dollars but I felt really uncomfortable doing that and yet didn't do anything about it. I told him once we got out that I felt wrong but I didn't do enough - I didn't say then and there to scan the item. I guess I just felt that it was easier to pay a little less and not argue with him over the pan then actually just pay for it. It was stupid and wrong.

John Purcell said...

I thought about this for a while and I think I came up with a decent story. To give some background, I worked at two cafés that my boss Richard owned. They were both fairly close to each other, so workers would swap back and forth. I am rather good friends with my boss too. There was a guy he hired, let’s say Bob, which worked at both cafés with me for a decent amount of time now.

One night we were working and we had just gotten a tip from a customer. Bob looked at me and said something along the lines of, “Sometimes I will just put the tips I get in my pocket, so that I don’t have to split them with Richard. He owns the place and makes enough money already.” We would split tips that anyone got with everyone that was working that night. There would usually be a cook and a waiter or two. We never got that many tips to begin with.

Often, Richard would be the cook. Yes, he was also the owner, but he also would be there working as hard as all of us. I didn’t always agree with this policy either, but it wasn’t my business to make that decision. Richard was usually good to all his employees and he really didn’t make that much money to begin with. He really made enough money just to stay open and live a very modest life. He was never really in it for the money.

After hearing Bob say this I was rather shocked, because I didn’t agree with his decision. I wondered how many times he had already done this. In the end I just made some funny or agreeable remark and we stashed it away for us to split separately later. I felt really wrong doing this, but I didn’t want my co-worker to think I was stuck up or something along this lines. I just keep quiet about it.

I probably should have mentioned it, though, because my owner starting having some money stolen from the cash register. This was more than the tips. It was also by an employee, because the place was never broken into and it would only be a little money at a time. Richard started to notice though. There are a few employees that will get a key to the café and are allowed to close up. Since he trusted me he started to look where the money could be going. He later had a neighbor tell him that he saw Bob and his girlfriend come into the café really late at night once. They walked in and didn’t stay long and then they left. Well, he fired Bob, even though he didn’t have concrete proof. Although, he gave Bob a different reason. I might have told Richard about the previous incident at that point, but I can’t really remember.

I felt horrible, because I should have seen this coming and I owed it to Richard to tell him. It is really odd when an employee takes an action like hoarding tips, because everyone really gets along with Richard rather well for the most part. I couldn’t imagine an employee doing that to him. I should have told Richard the incident when it first happened, because it would have been the right thing to do. I just felt too uncomfortable to voice my opinion.

Rachel said...

I don’t have one specific answer to this question. In the past week, I have come to a few realizations and have subsequently been making changes in my life pertaining to an unhealthy relationship I have been in for four years. In those four years, I have constantly been afraid to speak my opinion. The consequences that I endured when I did voice my opinion, many times on matters that were very trivial and unimportant, were very abusive. While I am finally realizing that it is time to break from this relationship, I can’t help but to reflect and think about what would have gone differently and what place I would be at now if I had stood up for myself and my opinions.
I don’t think it was a matter of courage, but of knowing what would happen if I spoke my opinion. It would be criticized, picked apart, and stepped on. It would be laughed at and made fun of. I would be asked to analyze things that didn’t need to be analyzed. Everything was turned into a battle. Very easy choices were made into complex fights. I realized that I have muted, not so much changed, but “kept in check” my personality and emotions, the way I am, because this person voiced her disapproval on my outlook of life. It has made me doubt many things, and question my opinions. While it is always good to think things thoroughly and ask questions, I’ve realized it has come to a point where I have been holding back from making decisions and having opinions, because it is easier than fighting.

Francis said...

Three years ago one of my friends from high school decided to walk home from a party when he could barley stand. My friend clearly had a drinking problem, and always would have these weird moods swings when he was drinking. After a few beers he was your best friend, and after a few more he became this asshole who wanted to fight everyone in the room. The rest of us at the party were all about having a good time, and didn't feel like putting up with him. He kept antagonizing people at the party, and he eventually got thrown out. On his way out he cursed at everyone and announced he was going home. His house had to have been over a mile away, and he shouldn't have walked by himself. I was the one who brought him to the party and was responsible for him, but for some reason I didn't care. At the time I thought it would be a good idea to call his parents to come pick him up. However, I didn't want him to get in trouble for drinking so much, so I kept my mouth shut. The next day I received a phone call from my friend asking me what happened the night before. He had no memory of the party or how he got home. He then told me when he got home he was badly beaten up and his phone and wallet were taken from him. Apparently when walking home he got jumped by some neighborhood teens and was unable to defend himself. Had I called his parents in the first place he would have been unharmed and safe. I feel extremely guilty for letting him walk home and not saying anything. My friend continues to tell me that it wasn't my fault, and he shouldn't have drank so much to begin with. But I know better, and I thought I would be helping him by not calling his parents. I couldn't have been more wrong, and I'm lucky he didn't get killed. His blood would have been on my hands if he did die that night.

lisa said...

Usually I am not afraid to voice me opinion, whether or not the people around me agree with me. The only time I regularly feel hindered from expressing myself is when I am in the presence of older people that have different views then me. I guess I was brought up to "respect my elders".

This happened very recently over spring break. I was visiting a friend of mine who comes from a very conservative family. We were having dinner with the family and they were discussing their dislike for Obama and how they beleived McCain should have one the election. I wanted so badly to reply to their comments with insults about McCain and the Republican party in general. However, I bit my tongue because I wanted them to like me.

I think that the kind of situation I was in in this instance is when people usually do not always voice their opinion; when they are trying to make a good impression.

Joanna said...

It took me awhile to think about what I would write for this blog as I usually do not hesitate to voice my opinion. That wasn't always the case, though. During my first two years of high school I was not so inclined to open my mouth. I guess you can say it took me until junior year of h.s. to really break out of my shell.

That said, the experience that I am going to share dates back to sophomore year Italian class in high school with Mr. Sottasanti.

Mr. Sottasanti was a native Italian, so there were some communication barriers between him and his students. He was a little difficult to understand. I sat in the back of the classroom and I was surrounded by some of the "cool kids" who got pure enjoyment out of taking advantage of Mr. Sottasanti, especially when it came to test taking. They would make tiny little cheat sheets for every test. When the cheat sheets weren't helpful they would whisper answers to each other.

I never told a teacher about this cheating behavior because I was afraid to be "the nerdy one" in the eyes of some of the most popular kids at school. So I kept my mouth shut. At the time I figured I wouldn't personally gain anything by ratting them out, and as long as I didn't participate I couldn't get in trouble. Looking back I guess I was just about as guilty as they were.

Nicole Moss said...

I feel that this sort of situation happens so often in our lives but when asked to speak about it, it becomes difficult to remember an exact situation. I can think of a specific situation that I am currently involved in which could relate to this question but unfortunately am not comfortable with sharing on a blog site. Which leaves me to use an example that had occurred a week or two ago.

My class had been given an exam and it is known throughout the class that we are not taught everything that is on the exam, which becomes very frustrating. This particular class is a "3-hour" and we do get a break in between. During this break the professor had to go to his office which is located in a different building than the one our class is located in. During this break when the professor was absent a flock of students went to the front of the room and looked at their quizzes, changing answers, and comparing answers- which obviously is cheating.

My friend and I were sitting there in shock, I couldn't believe that was actually happening. Even though it bothered me that they had cheated, potentially getting a better grade than those of us who did not follow their actions, I did not speak up to the students or the professor.

I don't know why I did not have the courage to speak up, maybe because I'm shy, or because I knew that I did the right thing by not partaking in the actions of these other students, or that I was taught not to tattle. These students were not harming anyone else but themselves and maybe that is why I didn't have the courage to speak up. I do however think that if the situation had the potential to harm someone I would have the courage to speak up.

Arlene said...

There have many times where sometimes I stay shut because I fear the consequences. In one situation a friend and I went to the mall to shop. My friend has a tendancy to steal but she knew that I was not accepting of that type of behavior. She still stoled anyway but I was unaware of it. When we were leaving Macy's, a security guard approached us and told us to open our bags.I did'nt know what to think because I knew about her history on stealing but I never thought she would steal in my prescence knowing how I felt about it. The security guard saw the stolen items and I was just in shock. I told him that those items were bought and that my friend had lost the recepit. We started adding more details to the story making it more believable. I was surpised at myself for lying so much when I knew my friend had done wrong but I feared the consequences of going to jail. At the end, the guard let us go but it was a situation where I was avoiding getting in trouble with the law. I had to lie and not voice my real opinion of having my friend steal. I was unable to really talk about how I felt because she was my friend and i did not have the courage to speak about what she did wrong because it could really have affeced her as well as myself.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates


The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.


Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.