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Letter from the Chair

by David Goldman, Founder and Chairman

FASPE’s basic mission is to promote ethical leadership in the professions. As we now enter our 14th year, perhaps it is valuable to revisit what this means, especially in 2023 (as opposed to 2009). Might the concept of ethical leadership change from generation to generation? Is there reason today for hope?

No doubt every generation believes that it is facing the most impactful and fraught ethical risks. And, no doubt, FASPE will continue to ask for ethical leadership from our professionals in any generation. Accepting these as givens, may we today still ask whether the challenges of 2023 are different because of a lack of clarity and the confluence of enormous risks? It seems that every profession is facing truly existential questions that require consideration of ethical implications, even if grayness abounds. 2023 feels different! And, different in a way, that makes the call on our professionals even more urgent.

  • Medical therapeutics and preemptive medical preventions are available as never before with new technologies and genetic treatments. But what of the ethical implications arising because of the challenges of access and the expense of these technologies and treatments as well as the ethical questions of particular research methods—let alone the ethical implications posed by “life-designing” genetic engineering?
  • Can ethical journalism survive in a world of unlimited access to the public market of information delivery, a willing disregard of facts, and rampant disrespect of civil discourse? Or, put differently, can ethical journalism survive in this world?
  • Technology is an increasing component of every aspect of our lives and lies at the heart of every profession. But what are the implications when there is near unanimous distrust of technology and technologists, when there is near unanimous belief that technologists are too often driven by the mystery and possibilities of their technology without regard to ethical implications, especially at a time when so many of us fear the sharing of data that may be the prerequisite to the effectiveness of some of these technologies?
  • Can there be such a thing as “ethical capitalism” where the free market is global, no doubt impacted and interrupted by unregulated and ethically untethered participants?
  • Can we trust a legal system that relies on ethical advocacy, one in which polarization leads many to no longer trust the system to protect us against the advocates (and the mediators, the judges) who are not moral and/or impartial players?
  • And what of the dwindling of traditional faith communities at the same time that political polarization weaponizes religion?
  • A distrust of traditional institutions.

Yes, the stakes seem much higher, yet long-trusted norms and traditions no longer seem to provide the guardrails. We are not comforted simply by traditional expectations for professional ethics, by the “norms” that typically offer protections. External factors—technology, globalization, polarization, nationalism, demagoguery—all seem to be creating the perfect storm in which the systems of the professions and historical norms are not sufficient.

FASPE believes that the answer lies with the individual professionals, the influencers.

  • Why the professions? And what do we mean by “the professions?” FASPE defines “professions” in the context of influence, not in the traditional manner that relies on the existence of barriers to entry, organizational structures, etc. So, we look at those individuals who, by virtue of their given areas of expertise, have particular influence in their communities, defined broadly. The definition therefore answers the question of “why the professions?” We seek to train the influencers.
  • Leadership? Yes, we believe that influencers must lead. And, here, we mean not just leading vis-à-vis their individual clients, patients, customers, readers, parishioners, et. al. FASPE believes in the proposition that those with expertise, those in areas of influence, must lead in a broader sense. They must assume the responsibility that comes with that expertise, and they must affirmatively and intentionally use that potential for influence. Put differently, if you have influence, use it.
  • Ethics. FASPE accepts that ethical right and wrong cannot always be defined; it’s simply not that simple. Yes, there may be universally accepted precepts. But that is generally not the case (can murder, for example, be ethically justified in time of war?). So, FASPE acknowledges that ethical professionals can disagree as to what the absolutely ethical answer to a particular situation is. We ask (demand?) that professionals at least ensure that the question of ethical right or wrong, however they answer it, remains top of mind, that the question of ethical right or wrong be a required component in day-to-day decision-making. #QuestionYourEthics!

FASPE believes that professionals must not accept moral neutrality. Doing their job well without regard to ethical implications is not sufficient. Individual professionals must lead and lead ethically. We must turn to individual responsibility in the face of these external factors—the systems and norms are not sufficient.

The 2023 FASPE Fellows join an alumni community that will soon exceed 1000. We are enormously proud of their influential work—inside boardrooms, laboratories, courtrooms, and operating rooms; speaking from pulpits, through chaplaincies, in classrooms, and through all kinds of media; creating algorithms and building things. They are touching and influencing countless numbers in countless contexts. But it is not enough that they are there; we expect them to act!

As you read these pages, we offer you a dose of optimism, optimism that we are building cohorts of ethical actors whose work and whose leadership is important and impactful. We hope that you feel and share this optimism, this commitment to impact our collective future, as you read a selection of their work.

— David