Existential Conversations

Existential Conversations

Pedro TabenskyProf Predo Tabensky

Professor Pedro Tabensky is the founding director of the recently formed Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics (AGLE), nested in the Department of Philosophy, Rhodes University (South Africa). A central, but by no means only, aim of the AGCLE is to help transform the South African secondary and tertiary education sectors. He is the author of Happiness: Personhood, Community, Purpose and of several articles and book chapters. Tabensky is also the editor of and contributor to Judging and Understanding: Essays on Free Will, Narrative, Meaning and the Ethical Limits of Condemnation; The Positive Function of Evil; and, coedited with Sally Matthews (his wife), Being at Home: Race, Institutional Culture and Transformation at South African Higher Education Institutions. He is currently completing a solo-authored book entitled Anti-Perfectionist Ethics, which he aims to complete in 2017. Until 2016, Tabensky ran a yearly roundtable series on critical issue in higher education—CHERTL Roundtable Series on Critical Issues in Higher Education—and is a regular commentator in the national and international media. He is also working with Paul Taylor, Samantha Vice and Uchenna Okeja on starting up a project that spans the entire South African philosophical community aimed at helping catalyse transformation across the sector.

 About the Session: 

The session that I preceded was aimed to give those present a sense of what the IiNtetho zoBomi  or zoBom programme (formerly called Existential Conversations) is all about. This programme has been designed and is implemented by the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics at Rhodes University. What the programme aims to do is to show participants (learners, university students, politicians, etc.) that ethics is not really about doing something that is detached from life, as if it were first and foremost a kind of toolkit for conduct or a list of rules, as the rules one has to learn to pass a drivers test. Rather, we are ethical beings insofar as we have to learn to manage the muddle inside us, a muddle which is very easily corrupted by internal and external pressures. To be ethical is ultimately to understand who we are and to act in accordance with this understanding. Indeed, we show participants the extent to which being responsible for our lives in a genuine way involves hard, directed, but worthwhile work. We aim to show participants how these pressures operate to distort our minds, how it is, for instance, that we can become racist or sexist without even noticing that that is what we have become, as evidenced by the Doll Test and by the Throwing Like a Girl advert. Ideally, we should aim to be effective ethical agents, that is, agents that understand how to live in a genuinely embodied way.

We currently teach 250 Rhodes students (if we didn’t cap registration at 250 students we would probably have more than 1000 students by now). Students love it even though it is an emotionally demanding course. We have also piloted the course with a small number of pupils form St Andrews in Grahamstown and with a significantly larger group from DSG, also in Grahamstown. They are also extremely enthusiastic about what we do. The general idea is that the programme will have a transformative effect in the lives of those taking it. Our country needs a new type of leader and zoBom offers participants the opportunity to grow as effective ethical agents, that is,  leaders, we think, in the deepest and most fundamental sense.

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