I have been discouraged for some time now that we have become unwilling to forgive the minor indiscretions of youth that, at the time, weren’t seen as terribly problematic (such as the wearing of blackface in a college skirt or at a party). At the same time, we are unwilling to address serious transgressions that have never been acceptable, like rape.
That unwillingness is a lot of things, none of them especially attractive, includng cowardice, attention seeking, a distorted relationship with reality, narcissues, obfuscation, and self-deception. What it isn’t is a serviceable morality.
I have noticed that, quite often, when an organization determines that a certain course of action is the right course of action their next step is to enter into a long process to determine how to best implement that course of action. What they really seem to be doing is determining how to implement their decision in the way that will create the least amount of public relations damage possible. While I agree with the old adage that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, there are some problems that require action sooner rather than later. If your house catches fire, you want the fire department to arrive as soon as they can rather than wait until they determine the route that will offend the fewest people with their sirens and horns. The humanitarian crisis at our borders is a house on fire, but the issue is being referred to committees at a frantic pace.
I understand that everybody wants to afford everybody else the illusion of empowerment (God help us all), but in some situations the reason we have placed leaders in position is to take action while some well meaning soul forms committees in hopes that nobody gets offended. We have so battered many of our leaders that they are afraid to take action because they don’t want to weather the second guesses of their constituents, and so they fail to take action when required. We have a lot of damage to repair!
We might start that repair by learning to trust our gut. I believe there are many ways in which we communicate with one another that we can’t see or measure, but they exist nevertheless. Whether we call it intuition, a hunch, or trusting our gut, we respond to that information that is subtly communicated. How many times have each of us ignored our hunches only to later discover we should have listened to them? Sometimes we just need to take action. If we lose our position for doing the right thing, or the best thing we could, we need to ask ourselves if we would have wanted to remain in a place that confuses popularity with right action. I hope not.
Sometimes, knowing right from wrong seems remarkably easy. At other times, it seems impossibly difficult. When it does seem difficult, how do we know what choice to make?
Looking to the law is not the answer. Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s wrong. For example, suppose your spouse needed a life saving drug that you couldn’t afford and you had exhausted all ways of getting assistance without any luck. If you walked into the pharmacy and noticed the drug just sitting on the counter, you might steal it to save her life. While the action would be illegal, it isn’t clear whether it would be wrong. From some perspectives, it would be wrong. From others, not so much.
If tomorrow murder were made legal, would you kill somebody just because the law now said it was okay? Nothing changed about the action itself, just the laws around the action changed. Apartheid, slavery, and a host of other horrible systems were at one time legal. Some people used their legality as an excuse, others saw that participating in such a system was wrong no matter the laws surrounding and supporting it. Therefore, while laws can help us determine right from wrong, the cannot define it.
Suppose your best friend was having a heart attack in your car. Would you speed to the hospital, breaking the law, or continue driving the speed limit? Most of us would speed. One way to explain why we would speed is that speeding would be life-giving, while continuing to putter along at the speed limit would be life-denying. That is an excellent question to ask when trying to determine right from wrong. Is it life-giving or life-denying? If it’s the former, it’s right; if it’s the latter, it’s wrong. That’s true no matter what the law, or any number of “experts,” might say!