Intergenerational Ethics

Three circles on a beige background. The title reads Intergenerational ethics. Each circle contains a quote. The orange circle reads "my ethical views do not differ from my parents'" (Duke student), the yellow circle reads "Each generation wants to do better for their kids. But more is not always better" (Durham resident), and the green one reads "when I disagree with my parents or grandparents about an idea, I tend to bring it back to a 'practicality' discussion" (Duke student).

This week, Team Kenan asked Duke’s community how travels across generations. The variety of answers mirror the breadth of experiences on campus. 

We asked students if their ethics stemmed from their parents. Most students acknowledged that although their visions of ethics have changed, they originated from their parents. One student said that she “used to think that she was very different from her parents but now has more empathy towards their viewpoint.”

Another student said, “ethics have been a constant force in my life, even from a young age … my parents were very ahead of their time. However, although I don’t think my ethics and morals have fundamentally changed, I realize now that when I was young, I was simply following what others were teaching me. As I matured, I started taking ownership of my ethics.” Through this students’ observation we see how ethics is a generative process that constantly requires refinement. 

We noticed differences in responses when we asked older people this same question. A middle-aged woman from Durham said, “my ethical views do not differ from my parents.” She noted that her children are being raised in a different ethical framework; one that she does not approve of. She said, “ I think schools have taught children values that we don’t agree on.”

There were also differences in the students’ strategies for handling conflicting ethical views with their parents. One student said that he ignored his parents remarks. Another said that “when I disagree with my parents/grandparents about an idea, I tend to bring it back to a ‘practicality’ discussion.”

Overall, Duke students do not take ethical standards at face value. They consistently question their beliefs. They speak of refining their ethics more often than previous generations.