A counselor asked for a private meeting with the camp director. She placed a plastic bag on the table and told the director that it fell out of a camper’s backpack. The bag contained photographs of teenagers in various stages of undress, involved in acts of a sexual nature that were clearly inappropriate. The counselor explained that she had asked the camper about the source of the photos. The camper, after some considerable conversation, claimed that she had found them in her father’s desk drawer. The camper’s father is a highly respected banker, a member of his town council and has made several substantial contributions to the camp’s scholarship fund.

Perhaps the right choice would be to have the camper interviewed by the camps “therapist on call.” Another right choice could be to have a counseling team meet with the campers in that cabin who may be aware of the photos and who may have “spread the word” to other campers. But, wait a minute. If the photos constitute illegal child pornography, shouldn’t calling law enforcement be the “right thing to do?” Oh, but wait another minute, calls to the police become a matter of public record and think of how a media event of this nature could damage the camper involved and her family not to mention the entire camps community. Could that possibly be an ethical choice. Or, should the first call be to the camper’s father? Just maybe, the purloined photos were “evidence” being reviewed by the father in some official investigation related to his town responsibilities.

Speaking before Maine’s business leaders last month, ethicist, Rushworth Kidder advised the group that leadership decisions between right and wrong are easy to make. However, the ethical choice between “right and right” is often the most agonizing choice today’s leaders must face. Kidder told the group that, in spite of the diversity of societies and religions in the world, nearly all societies agree on five fundamental moral principles that form the basis for “Global Ethics.” We all have very little difficulty choosing between right and wrong decisions based on our own personal and professional ethics. He suggested that the real problem arises when the choice is between right and right. Kidder repeatedly reminded the State’s business leaders of his favorite theme, “we cannot survive the 21st Century with 20th Century ethics.”

Camp directors as family members, employers and caretakers of other people’s children are frequently called upon to act on issues where the right ethical choice for one party affected conflicts with the right choice for others involved. Ethical choices should be a matter of regular camp staff discussion. A starting place could be the camp’s own code of ethics. Members of both the Maine Youth Camping Association and the American Camping Association agree to abide by similar codes of ethics.

Reprinted with permission from Maine Youth Camping Association News.


Originally published in the 2001 Spring issue of The CampLine.