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Mixed Morality
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 08/24/2015

Moral compass
The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Nobody's perfect, or so it is said. And it seems in corrections that the negative can receive more attention than the positive. Still, our professional integrity dictates that we do the right thing for the public. Unfortunately, every now and again, someone in our ranks will break the rules and attract public scrutiny.

Morality training and professionalism can come in at least two forms. You may see it as a primary module as you enter the department. Another manner in which morality/professional training is administered is in the wake of a scandal. Whether the training is proactive like the former or reactive like the latter is of less consequence than the main point: We must all do the right thing.

Then comes the exercise called “mixed morality”. This is a competition and question/answer exercise. It is very simple to perform this icebreaker. In addition, there are no props, no overt physical activities, and really no wrong answers, if you think about it.
  1. The class is divided into two teams. The facilitator may wish to create the teams by grouping every other person on opposite sides of the room, by random selection, or letting teams assemble themselves. This is not important as long as there are two separate teams.
  2. The teams will elect one person to answer morality questions. They will be told that they are to select an answer for the entire team on moral problems and dilemmas.
  3. Armed with 10 questions (like the set that follows) the facilitator will ask the questions of both team captains.
  4. Here is the wrench in the works: There are two possible answers, but each team will not know what the answers are. The facilitator will read only the question, leaving both answers unknown to each captain. The team that goes first may choose option one or option two. Both options will be blind, random answers. Therefore, the other remaining answer will go to the team that has not selected. The team captain will select only one or two and cannot justify or modify an answer after it is read.
  5. Each team will start at zero. The answer that they select will be accompanied with a positive or negative number value. As questions go on, a scorekeeper will mark on the board the numeric value and add or subtract that from zero.
  6. Another option is to ask these questions in a large room. Both team leaders will stand in the middle of the room. If their random selection for a moral question is positive, that team leader will step forward as many steps as directed. On the other hand, if the random selection for the moral question has a negative value, the person who selected (or was defaulted) that answer will step back as directed in the answer.
  7. Move on to the second question. The team captain that selected the positive answer will get to select option one or option two for the next question.
  8. Continue this through number 10.
  9. The team with the highest score or the team that has stepped forward the furthest will be declared the winner.
Here is a sample test with blind/random options:

The instructor can start by saying,

“Sometimes, circumstances will dictate how we choose to act. Not all decisions are clear and not all answers are easy. The team leader that wins coin toss will be given a question and asked to select option one or two. This is a blind answer – not an opinion or a reflection of how you would act. This is truly a matter of luck, as you may or may not necessarily agree with the content of the option. With each option comes a positive or negative score. Your choice might not be how you would react in real life. However, this is designed with a few wildcards to represent real-life circumstances that may alter your decision. Your opponent will, by default, be assigned the option that you did not choose. Whatever gets the highest point in each question will be permitted to have first selection of the options in the following question. There are 10 questions. The team that scores the highest is the winning team.”

1. You are in a beautiful national park. There is no one for miles around. The gum that you started to chew as you left your car has lost all flavor resembles nothing more than rubber. No one will see you and you assume that there are no trail cameras. Do you spit out your gum?

Option one:
You spit out your gum. No one will see you anyway. Your score is -1.

Option two:
Patience! You dispose of your gum in a receptacle designed for trash which is located at the trailhead. Your score is +1.

2. You witness a senior citizen place a candy bar in her purse. You are behind the would-be shoplifter in line at the cash register. You see by the form of payment for the other groceries that the senior has plenty of money. Do you report the crime?

Option one:
You whisper to the senior citizen that she forgot to pay for the candy bar in her purse. Your score is +1

Option two:
You mind your own business and don't worry about the cost to consumers. Your score is -1.

3. You see a semi-dead rabbit on a rural road. It appears that it had been run over by a vehicle and is living its last moments in agony. You have a shovel in your trunk. Do you put the creature out of its misery?

Option one:
Keep on driving and forget about it. It is just a casualty of nature. Your score is -1.

Option two:
You stop by the side of the road, retrieve the shovel from the trunk, and quickly and humanely sever the head from the body. Your score is +1.

4. In your corrections academy, you are taking the final exam for the criminal justice module. You are confident and are nearly done with the test. The person next to you is a devoted corrections professional as far as you can see. However, he is looking at your answer sheet and copying your answers. What do you do?

Option one:
You cover your answers. After all, it was up to him to study and you do not wish to jeopardize your chances of working in corrections through someone else’s mistake. Your score is +1

Option two:
You play dumb. You allow the person to cheat and you pretend not to notice. Your score is -1.

5. You leave the restaurant and just before you reach your car you see on the pavement by your car an expensive but functioning handheld videogame. This is a videogame that you've always wanted to play. You see no one around. Do you walk into the restaurant and present it to the staff person behind the counter?

Option one:
You keep it. If the person was foolish enough to let it drop from their hand, it is their tough luck. Your score is -1

Option two:
Turn it into the staff person. It doesn't matter that you have to walk back inside the restaurant even though you have just left. You would want someone to do the same for you. Your score is +1.

6. You have just enough time to get to work. On the side of the road, you see a colleague with a flat tire. It looks like he is not doing too well in changing the flat. This colleague just happens to be a less than pleasant type. He's expressed that he really doesn't like you and doesn't care if you live or die. Though you may be late, do you help your colleague change the tire?

Option one:
You reap what you sow. Why should you do this guy a favor? Keep driving! The score is -1

Option two:
As painful as it is, stop and help. At least pull over and ask if he needs assistance. Your score is +1.

7. You are on vacation with your spouse. At the breakfast buffet in the hotel you realize that you have spare minutes to eat before going on your planned excursion. Your spouse gets the coffee across the room. You get a couple of muffins. They are the last two muffins – just enough for you two to eat breakfast. One of the muffins drops on the floor. A quick inspection, you see no dust. Still, you blow on the top of the muffin, hoping that your germs pose less of a threat than whatever was tracked in on the floor. Your spouse, diligently preparing coffee just the way you like, did not witness any of this. What do you do?

Option one:
You confess that you dropped one of the muffins. You explain that it looks clean enough and that you can both eat half of both muffins. Give the option of you eating the fallen muffin. The score is +1.

Option two:
Place the fallen muffin in front your spouse. Inwardly you reason that what you don't know won't hurt you. Your score is -1.

8. You purchase some candy for $.75 with a $10 bill. The cashier, believing that you paid with the $20 bill, gives you $19.25 for change. This is $10 in your favor. What do you do?

Option one:
You have been shopping here for years. You've supported the store for over a decade. Will $10 really hurt in the larger scheme of things? You do not report the error. Your score is -1.

Option two:
Your integrity is not worth $10. You report the error. Your score is +1.

9. It is rush hour during lunch time at a fast food restaurant. Two different lines form and in a disorganized manner. You are standing right next to someone who has been in line longer than you. When cashier asked for the next person in line, you see that the person next to you does not move up. What do you do?

Option one:
According to the old saying, “the race is to the swift”. Step up! If you snooze, you lose. Your score is -1.

Option two:
You simply tell the person that they are next in line. Your score is +1.

10. You contacted your cable network and canceled a premium channel. A month later, you notice that you still have the channel but have not been charged for. What do you do?

Option one:
You inform your cable company of their error. You want to receive what you have not paid for. This is +1.

Option two:
You reason that a multibillion-dollar cable company will not miss $10 per month. Plus, you've always paid your bill on time. Your score is -1.

At the end of the exercise, the teams may actually be tied. It is truly a 50/50 proposition. That really doesn't matter. What's important is that not all decisions are cut and dry.

You can pose some of the following questions to the class if you have time to drive additional points home.
  • Have any of these scenarios actually happened to you? If so, how did you act?
  • Does having no money ever justify shoplifting?
  • If the only law that existed was “might makes right” like in a post-apocalyptic world, would moral decisions be assessed differently than now?
  • From whom did you learn right and wrong?
  • Is it cheating if no one ever knows about it?
In the end, morality training can be a bit uncomfortable. Be that as it may, with an icebreaker like mixed morality, you can use interesting segues into these crucial modules.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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