Moral and Ethical DilemmasOne of the most difficult trials I face in my life are ethical and moraldilemmas.
They can be soul-wrenching and searching experiences that tax mycharacter and cause me to really “put my money where my mouth is.” SometimesI’m quick to see ethical faults in others, but slow to see them in myself. Other times I see all to clearly my mistakes and wonder why I don’t measure up. I believe one purpose for this life is to learn to act for ourselves.
Learn tosee a situation correctly and act righteously. In this paper I wish to discussmany of the thoughts I have had recently on setting a pattern for making ethicaldecisions throughout my life. I will present many of the traps I have falleninto or observed in others.Everyday I’m faced with decisions of right and wrong, most of which areeasily and correctly dealt with. Sometimes however, decisions need to be madethat are not easy or clear-cut. They require thought and often prayer. I liketo draw on past experience to make comparisons that help give insight to newproblems.
Many times, however past experiences cannot be related to presentproblems and can confuse and obscure possibilities. Even the opinions oractions of friends faced with similar dilemmas may not be helpful. Often youfeel pressured by piers that say, “it’s no big deal”, or “you’ll understandlater”. It’s important that I understand why a particular action or resolutionis correct or incorrect. If I can’t or don’t it’s difficult to feel I’ve beenhonest with myself. That for me can be a good measure of ethical behavior, myconscience.The ideal way to deal with difficult questions is to have a foolproofformula. Find steps that will always lead to correct decisions.
UnfortunatelyI do not yet have such a formula and often learn by hard experience right andwrong. Let me start by saying I firmly believe the formula exists, and is to befound in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only way to live a perfectly ethicaland moral life is to be Like Him. There is no other way. The entire world willexperiment and try all other forms of self-indulgence and soul searching andwill not be one step closer until they begin with His gospel. I heard it saidonce that “he who picks up one end of a stick, picks up the other end also.
” Nomatter how hard you try or want happiness, you cannot pick and choose values andbeliefs according to your tastes and wants. It really is all or nothing. Thatis why I will discuss my formula in a gospel light, because any other way is awaist of time.I believe that in order to make correct and righteous decisions you mustfirst have proper perspective and motivation.
The Apostle (???), said that “thetrue character of a man can really be seen when he is alone and no one willknow.” Many people, myself included, are motivated by responsibility orleadership. They ask, “what will my wife, or kids think?” or “what will my wardthink?”. These are good motivations and the mantle of responsibility can mold aperson, but they can also betray us and make decisions quite difficult. If yourely on pressure to make decisions, what will you do when a decision isunpopular, or when no one is looking?Still others weigh consequences or outcomes to aid in decision making.
Rather than look at the question and judge it by it’s own merits, they want tosee who’s affected or what it would really cost. It’s like putting a price onyour character. If it’s small or doesn’t hurt anybody, than it won’t be a bigdeal. We can “nickel and dime” our moral piggy bank to death. It’s the old,”the ends justify the means.” Criminals aren’t made in a day.Some of the most unethical and unjustifiable behavior I know of has comeout of our own political system.
The very men who are responsible for makingour laws have little or no regard for them. They live under the philosophy that”I’m an ethical person until I get caught…” and when their caught they exclaimthat their human. Ethics has nothing to do with other people. It’s calledpersonal integrity and character and no one else will ever be my judge but me inthat regard. An ethical person has character and personal integrity.
What of the argument, “Remember the SPIRIT, or LETTER of the law”? Ithink all too often I use both of these arguments to justify myself. When I maynot exactly follow a law to the letter I can justify myself by babbling about”original intent or spirit”. On other occasions it’s an easy way out of adilemma by taking too literally the letter of the law. The classic argumentagainst war is “thou shalt not kill”. If a person wishes to look blindly on arule or a law and will not see a larger picture, than they easily justify theletter of the law.
It is for this reason our courts are overloaded withendless cases and appeals. Criminals go free on technicalities caused by forced”letter of the law” rulings. I believe it’s important to understand both theletter and spirit of the law in order to make correct decisions.Drawing analogies can often help me to understand complex subjects. Ithink traffic laws are a good microcosm of our society. We are a car along theroad of life (sorry if this is too much, just bare with me).
On the road wehave laws, which are straight forward and strict. We also have guidelines, thatare not laws, but still expected. On this road, we also interact with othercars and difficult situations.
“Can I pull a u-turn in the middle of the roadwhen there’s no sign that says I can’t?”, or “Can I park here?”, “Should I stopthat drunk driver?” etc. There are many examples that can be directly relatedto our lives, and can demonstrate the purpose for law and order. Are theretimes on the road when we justify an action by an individual situation oroutcome? Are there times when we are justified to not obey the law? Some maythink these examples are too much of a stretch, and I agree that they only applyso far, but in a Priesthood session not long ago we were asked, “how many of youbrethren obeyed all traffic laws when driving to conference today?” I believethat it is easy to justify traffic infractions, just as it is easy to justifysmall compromises in our character.I believe there are situations that merit not following the law.
As wediscussed in class, The revolutionary war was begun as a result of outrightrebellion of the colonies. When a people is deprived of life or liberty theyhave a human right to claim it and fight for it if necessary. Imagine if apolice officer over enforced laws on you, or unreasonably harassed you. Eventhough technically he may be within the law to do so, do you have a right to notobey him. Many courts have stated you do, and for good reason. Recently inAlabama an officer was chasing a women on the highway for a traffic violation.
He was in an unmarked car. It had no police lights on the top or any markingsthat would show it’s identity. He flashed his brights and told her to pull overfor miles, but she wouldn’t pull over. She was frightened of the man andwouldn’t believe he was an officer. After several miles she finally pulled tothe side of the rode.
The officer was furious and pulled her out of her car,through her on the ground, cuffed her, and arrested her. Here, the officer wasjustified in pulling her over. In Alabama police are not required to be in amarked police car. The officer has the right to arrest someone that doesn’tpull over. Technically the women broke the law, but was she justified? Ibelieve she was.
She feared for her own safety, and could not be faulted fordoing so. Fortunately her judge felt the same way and the officer was suspended.I believe this example, and others can show that ethical decisions arenot always black and white. They usually require thinking and good judgement. I realize that I can’t look at situations always at face value, but mustendeavor to understand them if I always want to make the best decision I can.A simple guide that I have used throughout my life is the golden rule.
Do unto others as you would have done unto you. I believe this is a good ruleof thumb to fall back on, but I don’t believe it’s foolproof. So often we canjustify actions by using this kind of reason. Just because you would do it, orhave it done to you in no way means it’s ethical or right.
Sure it may keep youfrom stealing, or murdering, but what about the gray areas. “I’ll do it for himbecause he’d do it for me.” “Everyone else would take this opportunity, so whycan’t I.” Even putting yourself in someone else’s shoes may not help very much.You must have a stronger foundation to base all your ethics on.The motivation for doing right should be based far deeper than justtestimony, commandments, or responsibility. I believe it must come from a truedesire to be the best person you can be.
Don’t settle for second rate behavior.Expect the best out of yourself and your fellow man. Be forgiving both ofyourself and others, but don’t be clumsy and just stumble through your mistakes.I believe the savior didn’t do all he did on the earth just to obey, or just tobe righteous. Those were true motivations, but I believe His motivation wasmore proactive rather than reactive. He was good, and He loved us, and wanted usto be like Him. He knew the only path possible for our return.
That is why Hevolunteered and submitted. I could compare it to temple attendance ormissionary service. We may serve by commandment alone, and reap all theblessing and rewards, or we could look beyond and see the work of saving souls.
We could see the absolute need for our service and give our lives for it.I believe with that kind of true motivation we will more easily be ableto see right from wrong. We will not seek to satisfy our own needs or wants,but will see others needs along with ours. We could more clearly see theimportance of ethical and moral behavior.
Whether someone is watching or not isirrelevant and has no part in our decisions. I admit that this in no way willmake the decision making process easier; quite the contrary. No longer willdecisions be made based on popularity or gain, but on what’s right and good. Unfortunately I will still have to learn by experience when the answers are notclear, so I will get burned a few times.
But in the process of learning, I canbe confident that I am really doing my best and improving always. By refiningthis formula I will find myself better able to resolve difficult dilemmas andfeel good about my decisions.