The Monitor's View

Rushworth Kidder: Ethicist, journalist, scholar

Rushworth Kidder, who passed away on March 5, was a former Monitor columnist and a leading advocate of ethical conduct in business, government, education, and personal life.

By , Editor

Rushworth Kidder, who passed away on March 5, was a thinker, journalist, and ethicist whose interests ranged from 20th century poets such as E.E. Cummings and Dylan Thomas to quantum physics to civility in public discourse.

 As a reporter, editor, and columnist for The Christian Science Monitor in the 1980s, he often traced the common moral values shared by all humanity. That led him in 1990 to found the Institute for Global Ethics in Rockport, Maine,  which, among other things, conducts "ethical fitness" training for corporate executives, schoolteachers, and others, helping people identify and solve ethical dilemmas in their lives.

 In a world where religion, morality, politics, and philosophy too often divide people, Dr. Kidder  (he had a Ph.d from Columbia University in English and Comparative Literature) used ethics as an intercultural language to help people deal with challenges that in another age might have been settled by clerical decree or codes of conduct. He often noted that when faced with the choice of meting out justice or showing mercy, the world benefits more from mercy.

 In a memorial remembrance of Kidder posted on the institute's website, former Monitor managing editor David Anable wrote: "What an intellect! What a range of interests! What personal warmth! What a passion for ethics -- personal, national, international! What a loss..."

 Kidder joined the Monitor in 1979 as London correspondent after a decade teaching English at Wichita State University in Kansas. He later served as features editor and wrote a weekly column titled "Perspectives.' Two of his essays appeared in the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Best Newspaper Writing collection for 1983. In 1988, he authored an award-winning, five-part series on quantum physics that explored the frontiers of science and the way new concepts of matter, time, and space influence human thought more generally.

 "I remember how brave he was to try to explain what some say is nearly unexplainable to laymen," recalled Gregory Lamb, an editor and writer for the Monitor who worked with Kidder on the project. "Whatever grasp I have of the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment comes from his explanation."

 In the field of ethics, his most recent work was "Good Kids, Tough Choices: How Parents Can Help Their Children Do the Right Thing." Parents, he told me in a 2010 interview, are misleading themselves if they think they can control every variable in their children's lives. The best path is not to teach kids what to think but how to think, he said. And the good news is that studies show that kids don't come into the world a blank slates: They are making moral choices as early as 3 months old.

 Kidder, who was born and raised in Amherst, Mass., and was an honors graduate of Amherst College (where his father, Dr. George Kidder, was a professor of biochemistry), maintained a lifelong interest in the arts. He was a skilled pianist and a specialist on E.E. Cummings. (At the Monitor, he occasionally had to make sure that writers understood that just because the poet famously wrote his poetry without capital letters that wasn't how Mr. Cummings was known in normal life.)

 A longtime resident of Maine, he and his wife, Elizabeth, had recently moved  to Naples, Fla. In an e-mail, Mr. Anable noted that "Elizabeth ('Liz') was an integral part of his life and his work, as were their daughters, Heather and Abby."

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