Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Virtue Ethics: An Ethical Development Program for High School Youth


Part of Virtue Ethics

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • A basket, and a variety of snacks
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Chalice, candle, and lighter or LED battery-operated candle

Preparation for Activity

  • Gather snacks for a basket-enough for each participant to have a snack. Include several types of fresh fruit, string cheese, carrot sticks, candy, and at least one item not frequently thought of as a snack item, such as a fresh beets or cabbage. There should not be two of any one snack. Make sure you know of any food allergies in the group.
  • Arrange the snacks in the basket.
  • Write the chalice lighting words (below) on newsprint, and set aside. These words will open every workshop, so consider laminating or otherwise preserving them and finding a place where you can post them for the duration of the program.
  • Label a sheet of newsprint "Bicycle Rack" and set aside.

Description of Activity

Participants experience how and process how they make decisions; then, the workshop is formally opened.

As participants enter, greet them individually and invite everyone to take a snack from the basket for snack time.

Once everyone is settled, say you will start the workshop shortly with a chalice lighting and reading, but first, you are curious about their snacks. Tell the youth they are welcome to eat their snacks now, but first they should explain what they were thinking when they picked the snack they picked. In other words: How did they decide what snack to pick?

Answers will vary. Some youth might not have picked a snack. Ask them why they made that decision.

After everyone has shared, acknowledge that many factors influenced their snack decision: hunger level, previous experience with the items in the basket, how often they are allowed to enjoy certain snacks, a desire to eat for health, a desire to eat for pleasure, how much mess the snack might make, letting their friend have the only banana (for example), allergies and dietary restrictions, etc... If no one picked the unusual snack (beet, cabbage, etc... ), ask why.

Remind them that this was just a snack-not a terribly important decision.

Invite participants to sit in a comfortable position and, if they choose, close their eyes, to share a meditation you will read aloud. Once youth are settled, share:

See yourself lying in your bed. At some point, you decided to get out of bed. How did you choose to wake up? Did you set an alarm? Did a family member rouse you? Did you leave it up to chance, knowing you generally wake up in time? Did you leave it up to chance because you did not feel compelled to get up at a particular time?

What other decisions did you make this morning? Did you have to negotiate bathroom time with family members? How did you decide what to wear today? Are you wearing a favorite top or bottom? Are you wearing simply what was clean? Did you plan your wardrobe last night or just grab something out of the drawer this morning?

Did you eat breakfast? If not, why? No time? Not hungry? Nothing you like in the cupboard? If you did eat, did you have any of the same thoughts when choosing breakfast as you did when choosing a snack? If not, why were the decisions different: time of day, location, offerings?

You came to our congregation today. Was that your decision? If so, why did you come? Did you have expectations? Are the expectations being met? What do you think now about the choice you made to come here?

Think of all the decisions you have made since you work up this morning. Think of all the decisions you make in a day. Each one is based on so many factors. How do we decide? What do our decisions say about us?

Pause for a moment, then invite participants to open their eyes.

Now say it is time for Opening words and lighting the chalice. Tell the group that each time you meet you will start by reciting together words attributed to the Buddha. Post the chalice lighting words you have written on newsprint. Invite a volunteer to light the chalice while you lead the group to recite these chalice lighting words:

The thought manifests as the word

The word manifests as the deed;

The deed develops into habit;

And habit hardens into character;

So watch the thought and its ways with care,

And let it spring from love

Born out of concern for all beings...

As the shadow follows the body,

As we think, so we become.

- from The Dhammapada, Sayings of the Buddha

Tell the youth this program will be about making ethical decisions. Invite definitions of "ethical." Offer this definition (from the website): "pertaining to right and wrong in conduct."


  • When you have to make a decision, is the "right" decision always clear?
  • What are some reasons it is not always clear? [Answers may include: because what is right in one situation might not be right in another, you might not know the right thing to do, you might need more information to make a good decision, you have conflicting values (e.g., it would be kind to help a friend on a test, but it would also be cheating), and different people might have different ideas about what is right.]
  • Why is it important to make ethical decisions? What does the chalice lighting reading suggest about the importance of making good decisions? [You may wish to call attention to key phrases, for example, "the deed develops into habit" or "As we think, so we become."]

Say, in these words or your own:

As the meditation showed us, we make thousands of decisions a day. Few of these decisions are life changing. Yet, even our smallest decision could have consequences unforeseen. The quote from The Dhammapada says our thoughts becomes words, words become deeds, deeds turn into habits, and our habits shape our character. Do you believe this is true?

Think of young children. In the beginning, we all think the world revolves around our needs and desires. At some point, someone started to teach us that we should share. We recognized that other people have needs and desires, too. Not only that, we witnessed that we could fulfill the needs and desires of others. At that point, we made an ethical decision. We decided that we would try to fulfill the needs of others or we decided we would not or maybe we decided that sometimes we would, but only after our needs were met. Our decision manifested as a deed or action and at some point, it became habit.

Think about your peers. You know which ones you consider generous and which ones you would never want to ask a favor. Some are in the habit of helping others and some are not. We could also say some have a generous character and some are stingy or selfish.

Can you think of a time you intentionally decided to change your actions or deeds and develop a new habit? How did that habit influence your character? [Take responses.]

Now let's work backwards: If you believe the Buddha's words are true and you want to possess a strong, ethical character, what should we do about our habits? How should we act or perform deeds? What kinds of words and thoughts should occupy our minds?

This program will explore these questions. We will do this by discussing various virtues, character attributes that most people would agree are consistent with a strong, ethical character. We will work to understand these virtues better, what they mean for us individually, decide if we want them to be part of our character and make intentional plans for living these virtues in our daily lives so they become habits.

To conclude the Opening, indicate the "Bicycle Rack" newsprint you have posted. Tell the youth that from time to time, situations that require decision making will come up in group discussions but there will not always be time to discuss them right away. Encourage the youth to help you "park" interesting dilemmas in the Bicycle Rack today and in future workshops.