Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ethics and Morals

October 26, 2011 – Ethics and Morals

“What would you do if someone pointed a gun at you and said they’d kill you unless you took drugs?” Joaquin, my ten year old tutoree asks me during class.
“What would I do?” I ask, stalling for time to think by repeating the question.

“What would you do if they pointed a gun at you and said they’d kill your family and you if you didn’t take the drugs?”

“My family and me?” I’m still repeating. Also I’m wondering why they have to bring my family into this--those nefarious gun-toting drug pushers. “Do I only have to take the drugs once or do I have to take them for the rest of my life?”

Joaquin pauses for a beat. “Only once.”
“Well then. I’d take the drugs and thereby save my family and myself.” I applaud this noble choice. Silently.

“But you might get addicted.”
I might, I think emphasizing each word differently, ungrammatically, and specifically in my head, but they got rehab! And, where there’s life, there’s hope, as my dad always says.

“What would you do?” I ask him.
“I’d never take drugs,” he says. “They’d have to kill me and my family.” I look shocked and sad. “But it’d be okay,” he assures me. “Because we’d all be together in the sky.”

I think I just failed an important teacher test. The answer should always be Say No to Drugs. Right? But it’s not that easy. Situations aren’t ever only cut and dry, to use the cliché. Whenever I’m given these situational choices I always want to know the entire story before I commit to anything. Like the time someone asked me if I’d drink a bottle of Tabasco Sauce for a million dollars. My first question was, “How big is the bottle?”
I walk home from class pondering ethics, morals, and just how much Tabasco Sauce the human stomach can handle.
It’s not a new topic of musing for me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the wrongness and rightness of things.

For instance, is it right or wrong for me to quote people verbatim? Why did I feel it was okay to report whatever Walter, Geraldine, Jose and Mariela said when I feel restricted about doing the same with people I know are reading my blog? Ah, see? A moral dilemma.

Are little white lies ever okay? I got a light reprimand after I blogged of lying to Joaquin’s mother about having another student. Which then made me feel self-conscious about writing honestly about dishonesty. What are the ethics of telling the absolute truth all the time regardless of anything? The absolute truth might get me in more trouble than a selective retelling. “Do these words make me look fat?”
At what point, if ever, is it alright to overlook feelings in order to tell a story? When does art become more important than people? Is it ever fine to tell about how a situation made me feel if it puts the other person in a bad light?

Is this just a new way to worry over fair play?
I torture myself with these thoughts much like the dark and sinister character of Jas. Hook in Peter Pan tortures himself over the idea of good form.

Hook was not his true name. To reveal who he really was would even at this date set the country in a blaze; but as those who read between the lines must already have guessed, he had been at a famous public school; and its traditions still clung to him like garments, with which indeed they are largely concerned. Thus it was offensive to him even now to board a ship in the same dress in which he grappled [attacked] her, and he still adhered in his walk to the school's distinguished slouch. But above all he retained the passion for good form.

Good form! However much he may have degenerated, he still knew that this is all that really matters.”

Good form is all that really matters. Is it really?
Keeping my happy face on is better than admitting dissatisfaction. Is that telling the truth?

Confessing that I was angry or sad or disappointed or worried seems so much less socially acceptable than telling a nice story or just being silly.
But the world isn’t always pretty. The way I respond isn’t always best. The people in my life don’t always make me happy. I don’t always make me happy. Should I share the good and the bad?  

Maybe some things are better left unwritten.
I had a writing teacher in college who said, “You have to write from the abyss. You have to write from the darkest part of yourself. You have to write from your fear and your pain. You have to write the emotions. You can’t sacrifice the words because you’re afraid of how they’ll be received. You have to be true to the story. Only then will you write anything great.” Yet I still I pick and choose in fiction and nonfiction. I protect myself. And I protect others. This is good and bad. This is right and wrong.

Well, that’s what writing is, wrestling with the words and figuring out which ones to leave in and which ones to kick out. So what’s the moral to this story?

“‘Perhaps it hasn't one,' Alice ventured to remark.

'Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. 'Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.' And she squeezed herself up closer to Alice's side as she spoke.” (Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol)


  1. When we read what you write, we become a part of it, and we place ourselves in your position to make judgments or decisions on actions we would wish we would make. Good writing should expose the writer, and good writing will draw the reader in. "Light reprimand" or counsel to grow?

  2. Keep being true to yourself. I love seeing your bravery in your honesty! I can't expose myself like that.......and I love you for it!