Otter’s CHARACTER Focus

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OLLY the OTTER. Focus Color: GREEN

Why an Otter?

Olly, like many otters, is known for being intelligent, sociable, adaptable and curious. Olly and people who prefer the Character Focus are curious about the various personal characteristics that make someone a good person. They are adaptable as they seek to exemplify theses character traits. They are more interested in living in line with personal values than in set rules or calculating the results of specific actions.

Main Consideration:

When deciding what’s right, Olly and others with a Character Focus tend to focus on the universal CHARACTER traits (e.g. compassion, fairness, honesty) that make someone a good otter/person.

Question:

Like Olly, someone with a Character Focus may ask themselves: “What kind of otter/person should I be?” They care deeply about which personal characteristics they exhibit in order to be the type of person they think that they should be.

Strengths:

1. CHARACTER TRAITS MATTER: Olly’s friend got hurt recently and Olly went to visit them. They were so happy to see Olly and they asked “Why did you stop by to see me Olly?” Olly said: “You are my friend and I really care about you” (e.g. feelings of compassion). This seems very different than what two other friends said. One said: “I felt it was my duty to visit since I follow the rule/code that I should visit those who are suffering…” The other said: “I calculated the greatest good I could do today and this is it.” Olly can help us focus on the character traits that make someone a good person (e.g. compassion), personal qualities to strive for, not just the consequences of our actions or consistent codes/rules to follow.

2. MOTIVATION: Olly helps us consider our personal motivation for being the people we should be (e.g. compassionate, fair, honest). Olly helps us to focus on important aspects of our moral/ethical motivation (e.g. friendship, love).

3. RELATIONSHIPS: Olly was swimming one day and saw three other otters being attacked. To the right, Olly’s good friend was being attacked. To the left, two otters that Olly didn’t know were being attacked. Olly needed to act fast and only had time to go in one direction. Olly decided to help the friend even though Olly would be saving just one otter, instead of two. Because of Olly’s focus on character traits (e.g. being a responsible friend) Olly decided that the personal relationship was a very important factor. Olly helps us to focus on being adaptable and taking into account personal relationships and situational differences when deciding what traits to exhibit, especially since not all situations are the same. (Note: other focus areas may see these as challenges, not strengths).

Challenges:

1. WHICH TRAITS? Olly doesn’t clarify which character traits are the most important. Olly believes that it’s important to be courageous. However, courage may not always be an ideal character trait. One could argue that the 9/11 terrorists showed courage by risking their lives for what they believed in, but courage for what purpose? To determine which traits are the most important, Olly may need help from friends with a different focus area (e.g. Hadley the Hawk’s Code Focus, Whitley the Wolf’s Consequences Focus).

2. WHAT ACTION? Olly wants to be an honest otter, but also a compassionate otter. Olly sometimes feels stuck in situations where it’s hard to be directly honest without hurting someone’s feelings. For example, Olly’s friend spends a long time grooming and styling their fur just before a big date and asks: “Do you like how I styled my fur Olly?” Olly thinks it looks terrible, but there is no time to change it. Olly wonders: “… should I be directly honest with my friend, or say something that’s not completely true to protect my friend’s feelings and confidence?” Olly doesn’t help us clarify what to do when two important traits conflict. In these situations, Olly asks for help from friends who sometimes see things in a different way (e.g. Hadley the Hawk’s Code Focus, Whitley the Wolf’s Consequences Focus).

Theoretical Background: 

Virtue Ethics (based on the wisdom of philosophers such as Aristotle, Elizabeth Anscombe and others).

Conclusion: 

Olly the Otter represents a very important and respected focus area (CHARACTER) from moral philosophy. However, this focus area does include everything. To balance out the challenges above, Otter’s CHARACTER should be combined with other focus areas, like Hawk’s CODE and Wolf’s CONSEQUENCES. Combining focus areas is called PLURALISM and can be very beneficial.

Next Steps:

1. Remind yourself of the strengths and challenges of your main focus animal/color. This can help you anticipate benefits and identify potential problems down the road. For example, if you only focus on the Golden Rule (Bear’s Care focus: yellow/gold), you may not hold someone accountable for their behavior because you would not would to be held accountable if you were in their situation.

2. Pick one other focus area (another animal/color) to read more about (see take5.gmu.edu/animals/). This can help you better understand the strengths and challenges of different decision-making strategies and help you see the benefits of uniting the focus areas (“Unite to light the way”) since they can counteract each other’s challenges.

3. We all need reminders. Use the Take5 card (take5.gmu.edu/ethics-card/) to help you make well-balanced decisions (individually or in groups).

Handout:

To better understand this focus area, see the PDF Handout.

 


Overall Conclusion about the focus areas of the animals:

The Otter, Hawk, Wolf, Bear and Elephant represent very respected views from moral philosophy. We recommend combining the views of these 5 animals to balance out their strengths and weaknesses. For some tips on how to do this, please see the ethicspectrum page.

For George Mason University community members who would like to learn more, the Leadership Education and Development Office (LEAD) offers workshops and other programs on ethics and leadership topics. The workshop that directly addresses the ethics and leadership topics discussed on this website is called: “What Would You Do? Making Tough Ethical Choices.” Please see our general page at lead.gmu.edu or our workshop request page.