Exploring NASW’s Ethical Principles for Social Work Futures

Ethics evolve as the times change. For a while now, I’ve been exploring how futures thinking and practice might intersect with the NASW social work code of ethics. At times I worry that we are thinking of “ethical practice” ONLY as something that reflects historical or current practice…and believe we need and can manage to incorporate a temporal dimension looking ahead as well. At this turbulent time in the world…is it really possible to be ethical without a dedicated and rigorous commitment to preparing for what is ahead? And how do we reject the false notion that we “either” focus the here and now OR the future? In fact, I believe that social workers are often in close proximity to “emergent futures” all the time as we go about our business, deep in the trenches of human suffering, problem solving – and the overcoming of it – as well as systems and community change. But we don’t often speak of it as if we are interacting with the future in real and practical ways. What if we did?

One of my favorite futurists and colleagues, Jamais Cascio, speaks of giving “the future a seat at the table” which has always inspired me. And he’s not alone. With great respect, the five nations of the Haudenosaunee – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca – made a dedication to seven generations forward a cornerstone of the Kayanerenko:wa – the Great Law of Peace; reflecting deeper epistemlogical traditions across Indigenous peoples of having long-term relational obligations. Explicit commitments to the future “feel” especially important at this increasingly volatile time in history. What is social work’s response to focusing care, attention, and ethics to what comes next even as we balance the heavy load we shoulder day to day? How do we account for the “emergent” in our world and our practice…and what comes after it? How do we build discovery, humility and revision (of ourselves as social workers) into our ethical sensibilities to be what is needed in the world, even as the world changes?

As part of my efforts to “learn out loud” in terms of journeying through futures thinking and practice…I’m sharing an “in process” set of initial responses to how the NASW “Ethical principles” might be expressed as part of foresight practice. This is an early draft…but I’m sharing to generate conversations that will advance our work together. What are your thoughts?

Note: I’ll do a similar post in the near future focused on the NASW Ethical Standards and how futures thinking might intersect there too.

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