July 4, 2012
When it comes to the decision of how to respond ethically to a situation, how do we as humans figure out the correct answer? There are numerous outlines from several philosophical schools of thinking that point our focus in different directions, and every faction has its own way of viewing morality and the “right” choices. Really, though, it is up to the person who is doing the action to react as he sees fit per each instance and according to his moral preference. One such situation comes to mind as I reflect on the ethical dilemmas that plagued my past. This occasion happened many years ago, and I, as a child, was not quite ripe in skills of any ethical magnitude. At this point of my young age I was the budding product of a decade of religious conditioning, beginning in utero, into the brethren, “non-denominational” church of my parents. I wholeheartedly believed that what I was doing at the time of the incident in question was wrong, so I believe that I was truly, morally wrong, though my present self does not see a morality issue. My ethical dilemma started with an in-school fight between my good friend, Michael Cobb, and myself. It ended with a large sum of money. I suppose I should begin at the beginning.
The school was a byproduct of the strict protestant church I attended multi-weekly (three, sometimes four times), so one could only imagine the asphyxiation of all things fun the conjoined-twin-like entities represented to me as a child. Though Mike and I were fairly close friends, we often butted heads over the most regrettably unimportant things, something that I blame on puberty, girls and our always-antagonizing mutual friends.
One day when Michael and I were viciously fighting in the classroom a few minutes before our daily Bible class, a teacher walked in and grabbed us each by an ear and dragged us all the way to the principal’s office, a dreaded fate for anyone who attended the church’s school. Expecting the worst, Michael and I started a rather witty banter with one another about how neither of us could believe that we were being dragged to the principal’s office for simply playing rough. Of course the teacher who caught us in the act knew we were lying and getting our stories straight, and she kept saying to both of us and neither of us at the same time something along the lines of “liars go to hell”. By the time we reached the office we were set with our story and we convinced the principal we were just playing around.
Not two days later the teacher who tattled on us dropped a twenty-dollar bill from her purse as she was fumbling for her car keys and she drove off, ignorant of her loss. I decided that to get back at her for her injustice against me, I would keep the money. She had given me so much trouble over the years that I felt it was right of me to take it. Was I wrong? I didn’t think so at first. If taking the money made me feel better it must have been right relative to my situation, or so I believed. Eventually my conscience got the better of me, and I felt terrible, so I gave the twenty back to her.
My motivation for taking the money was founded in selfishness and in the interest of my own gains. I thought that taking the money would make me feel better, but it really had the opposite effect. I felt awful, first for taking the money when the underpaid teacher needed it, and second for harboring such hateful feelings toward her because she was simply doing her job. I think that my negative feelings were caused by my vicious attitude. In taking the money I was not showing excellence in virtue, as I should have been. In lying and fighting I was letting vice take over and virtue again became a low priority.
Once I made the morally correct choice to give the money back to the teacher, she thanked me and I think we both saw each other differently. This helped me to grow as a person, and