This week, a special edition of the bulletin written by our fellow in-house philosopher, Marley Davies.
I’m looking at a photograph of me on the frontpage of Lviv News, and I’m wondering whether going to Ukraine was right, wrong, or neither.
In July, my Dad, his friend and I drove an ambulance from Birmingham, UK, to Lviv. It took two days. We mainly drove at night to avoid the heat and took turns sleeping on the stretcher in the back. Customs delays and the odd mechanical problem aside, it was mostly smooth sailing. We came across some surprising features of central and eastern Europe. Did you know some German toilet seats spin when you flush them? While driving through Poland, I woke up to the sight of a 33ft statue of Jesus Christ that not only lights up in the dark but also transmits WiFi.
Some bars in Lviv are war themed. Locals will be jovial to you if you speak English, but will parade you around at fake gun-point if you speak Russian. British people are quite popular in Ukraine now. You can even buy t-shirts emblazoned with Boris Johnson’s face!
One day, someone approached me and, without asking, took my photograph and printed it in a mini-newspaper. The paper itself welcomes visitors to Lviv and encourages them to hug one another and spend money locally.
The air-raid siren rang twice while I was there. However, they’re ignored by most, as it’s likely to be for somewhere else in the country. The sirens that I heard were for bombs hitting the port in Odessa – a place I passed on the train home.
On that train, I met an American who had been in Ukraine since March, despite not speaking any Ukrainian or Russian. He had driven Ukranians between conflict zones and insisted on showing me photographs of injured people in the back of his truck.
However, my most interesting and unexpected experiences came when I told people back home. Their responses varied:
Some were excited about the journey, thinking it sounded thrilling and adventurous.
Some were even a little jealous, although in reality it was mostly sitting in a vehicle.
Some were worried about the danger to me being in Ukraine.
Some didn’t believe that what we were doing was actually helpful and tried to find problems with it.
Some asked why the ambulance came all the way from the UK, saying that it was expensive and bad for the environment to drive all that way.
Some thought we were being self-indulgent, motivated by a desire to go on a fun road trip. Some were scathing, asking why we were trying to help Ukraine when we hadn’t done anything for Afghanistan, Syria or Yemen.
These represent the philosophical minefield that is the ethics of aid work and activism.
It’s easy to be suspicious of people who help others for what we think are the wrong reasons. People who protest are sometimes accused of looking to have a good time and enjoy some youthful rebellion. People who get involved in international aid are sometimes accused of wanting an exciting holiday or worse, constructing their own narcissistic narrative for social media. They might be even doing harm to local communities, as this Guardian article suggests.
I’m unsure if I’m guilty of any of these. I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed being in Lviv, or the drive there, and I didn’t expect to. It made me feel useless and morbid more than anything else. Yet, I do like the newsletter I was given, and I felt compelled to buy souvenirs in the Lviv gift shops and I took lots of photographs.
Is that wrong? Does it matter?
Is a good deed less of a good deed if you have a good time doing it?
If I did enjoy it, would that have made my deed less good?
When can help be harmful?
You can read my story to your students and follow up with these questions. Or scroll down for a story below on ethics of enjoying good deeds that’s accessible for all (it’s also attached).
I’d also like to thank Kharpp, the organisation who funded and arranged for our ambulance to reach Ukraine. It has now been sent onto the Eastern region. Learn more about them (and donate!) here.
Sticky Question of the week
…taken from our Year 7 set. Learn more about Sticky Questions.
Good deeds and good people
Every year, the Robinsons and their extended family have an enormous picnic party in the park. Ginny and Harry Robinson are in a bit of an in-between age. They aren’t quite adults yet and so can’t fully join in the adults’ conversations but they feel they aren’t children anymore either.
Ginny and Harry’s aunts, uncles and cousins are all there this year, as normal. The grown ups have said they’d really like it if Ginny and Harry would entertain and keep an eye on all the kids of the family. This would give the grown ups a break and a chance to relax and have a glass of champagne. Harry is very happy to play with his little siblings and cousins; he loves children and wants to be a teacher when he grows up.
Ginny does not like young children and is very glad to not be one anymore. She thinks their games are silly, and she finds their conversations boring. She would much rather just listen to the adults chat. But she doesn’t want to leave Harry on his own, so she watches the kids with him.
- Who is the better person?
- Whose deed is most good?
- Who is doing more good, the person who enjoys a good deed or the person who does it despite not enjoying it? Or is there no difference?
To give both sides of each question a fair hearing, get all children to come up with reasons for one view followed by the other. Once they’ve said and heard reasons for both, invite them to give their own verdicts. This ensures they push past initial hunches and weigh up the arguments on each side of the coin.