What to Do? What to Do?
Life throws more than just curve balls. I’m carrying a baby with a birth defect. Do I abort it? My dad is very sick, and unable to be reliable in taking his medicine, although he wishes to remain at home. He doesn’t have enough income to hire in home caregivers.
My close friend is a hoarder and mentally and physically ill. Do I attempt to have her committed for mental evaluation? Should I feel responsible to enter her toxic home to remove valuable objects to get her some money, since she is virtually destitute?
My child is coming home from school and telling me she learned something that contradicts our family religious beliefs. Do I let that go?
My neighbor’s dogs bark continuously, and she doesn’t respond to complaints. Should I call the police?
Shall I vote for the candidate I think is most likely to win the election, or the one I think is best? Should I vote for a candidate who has done something bad, lied, cheated, or whatever, just because he’s in my party?
It goes on and on. So many things to consider…
What I usually hear first in discussions about this is fear of retaliation, injury or even death at the hands of the person reported.
That fear acknowledged, how does one decide? There are principles involved in all these situations, and even courses of study in ethics to help sort things out. It’s that complicated, and that difficult.
The first might be autonomy, or the right to live one’s own life. How much autonomy should be allowed another who is not making good decisions, or even endangering himself?
My dad is a little confused. When do I consider attempting to take away his treasured independence? How much should I and my family sacrifice for his desire?
Would it be right to attempt to get the possibly unsafe hoarder friend committed for mental health evaluation, and possibly cause her to lose her home and her pets?
When a friend calls and threatens suicide am I obligated to call the police or the Suicide Hotline? If the man down the street is behaving strangely, should I contact authorities? If I see someone steal something from a store, should I tell?
As for the neighbor with the barking dogs, the principle might involve the question of personal rights. The neighbor has the right to own a legal number of dogs. I have the right to quiet enjoyment of my property. Does her right, or her choice of how to control the dogs, trump my right to quiet enjoyment? In principle, we both have rights, and both rights should be respected. Her right to own dogs must be respected, but her choices relating to this right must include respect for my right to quiet.
As for Dad, the ill hoarder living in a toxic home, the strangely behaving man, or friend threatening suicide, the question might be: “Does an individual have the right to dangerous or self-destructive behavior, or behavior that threatens others? Do I have an obligation to call for help for the suicidal friend, or to respond to possible danger in my community?
Living in a civilized society implies agreement to maintain civilization, and one has some obligation to keep things safe, and to “see something, say something.”
If that strange neighbor appears to be carrying weapons into his apartment, or if my friend threatens suicide, it’s my obligation to respond by calling for help for them, and for those around them.
If Dad’s behavior is making him unsafe, then I have an obligation to step in and do what I can. The hard question here is at what point. How safe is Dad right now? How safe is my community right now?
In our ongoing elections, there are some tough questions, too. Shall I vote or campaign with my friends, so no one stops liking me? Am I obligated to do some study before I vote, so I make an educated, more likely correct decision, and thus do right by my community? Do I have an obligation to vote at all?
What are my rights and obligations, and what are the rights and obligations of my community at large? These are goof questions to ask oneself, at the grocery store and in the voting booth.
Being prepared for life’s hard questions is a good thing.