Kansas Exclusive: What the Wizard Knew

It seems impossible to be in Kansas without thinking of ‘the Wizard of Oz’.

You know the story…

Dorothy and her dog, Toto, are transported from Kansas to the Land of Oz. The house they travelled in lands on, and kills, the Wicked Witch of the East. The Good Witch of the North advises Dorothy that if she wants to get home she should visit the Wizard of Oz. To get to the Wizard, Dorothy is told to follow the Yellow Brick Road. On her journey, she makes three friends who hope that the Wizard will deliver for them too. Scarecrow wants a brain, Tin Man wants a heart sand Lion wants courage. The Wicked Witch of the West intervenes to make their journey as difficult as possible. Despite the witch’s best efforts, the little group get to meet the Wizard. He tells them that to have their wishes granted, they need to bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch which they succeed in doing. 

However…the Wizard is then exposed as an ordinary man. He argues that, anyway, each of them achieved what he wished for. Scarecrow displayed wisdom along the way so has a brain after all. Tin Man discovered love on the journey so has a heart. And Lion demonstrated courage in the rescue of Dorothy from the Wicked Witch…

I enjoyed reading your responses to last week’s blog…

You rightly said that ethics is not straightforward. That it is about head and heart and being able to come up with arguments rather than just stating an opinion. You commented that there is often ambiguity and uncertainty – ethical dilemmas and conflicts exist – and some things are just wrong (torture, rape, slavery, murder…). One of you said you don’t go into bars to avoid getting into arguments as to whether ethics is a matter of opinion or not!

My visit to Kansas was to attend the annual conference of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH). There was plenty there to convince that the field of bioethics is flourishing and a wide range of interesting topic areas, for example, clinical ethics, research ethics, social justice, historical perspectives on medical exploitation, moral distress, resilience…. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and the city. So many interesting people to talk with and learn from. So many committed to improving care. And many concerned about a lack of political will to develop systems that provide care for the most disadvantaged.

Now what about that Wizard?

Should we be disappointed that the Wizard turned out to be an ordinary man? Wouldn’t we all like to have someone wave a wand and make us (more?) wise, courageous and loving? Why wouldn’t we also pitch for booster doses of patience, kindness, humility and moral resilience?

In this exclusive from Kansas I’m speculating that the Wizard knew more than he said and may even have read about virtue ethics. He knew, for example: that the moral life is complicated: that we humans are fallible and vulnerable: that none of us is wholly good or bad; And that to develop ethical dispositions, we need to practise doing good things. Reflectively, regularly and slowly.

As it’s close to Halloween I must end with a word of warning for any witches reading this blog. Please beware of little girls with red shoes.

Next week I’m going to tell you about two interesting women.