Moral dilemmas; Sometimes I feel like one of those agony aunts or uncles they used to have in the tabloid papers; the ones where people would write in and ask for advice on whether or not they should sleep with the milkman because they think their partner’s cheating with the barmaid.
I recently had someone call me out of the blue and say they had a moral dilemma (nothing as juicy as that) because they knew that their boss had been claiming furlough payments for staff that worked all of the way through the pandemic. They knew the right thing was to report them, but also realised it would mean they would lose their job if they did.
So, what should they do?
What would you do?
We’ve probably all been faced with a moral dilemma at some point in our lives; a situation that involves choices which aren’t necessarily moral or ethical. These can be a real test of our mental prowess and judgement – which is the lesser of the two evils?
To tell or not to tell – that is the question.
There’s rarely a clear ‘correct’ or easy choice.
Your decision is probably going to depend on who is involved. You might find it fairly easy to grass up a neighbour, or someone you barely know when they’ve done something morally dubious…but what about if it’s a good mate, or your partner….or your child?
Is it better to tell someone who isn’t involved, like my mate did, and let them decide or advise you on what to do? Should we perhaps just be passing our moral dilemmas on and making it someone else’s problem – let someone else become the messenger and risk getting shot?
How should you be dealing with a moral dilemma?
Use Logic Instead Of Emotion!
It’s the bias that I mentioned earlier that makes using logic instead of emotion a particularly difficult first step when it comes to dealing with a moral dilemma.
However, using logic is going to force you to look at the situation from as many different perspectives as possible in order to find the best solution, so it’s worth giving it a go.
Logical thinking can erase some of the tension surrounding the decision making process, and make you feel calmer, whereas being highly emotionally charged can affect your ability to make a reasonable decision.
Of course, when we’re dealing with moral dilemmas there quite often is emotion involved, as the very fact that you consider it a ‘dilemma’ is normally because you don’t feel it’s something you can turn a blind eye to as it involves someone to whom you feel emotionally attached.
For example, let’s say you’ve been going into the corner shop near your house every morning for years. You are on first-name terms with the couple who own it, and you’d certainly say ‘hello’ if you bumped into them in the street or on a night out – but they’re not what you would call ‘friends’.
When you’re waiting for the bus one morning you see ‘wife-from-the-shop’ sitting in a car kissing a man who certainly isn’t ‘husband-from-the-shop’. And rather than telling your other half the gossip when you get home, you keep this news to yourself.
It’s morally wrong if she’s cheating, and you feel a bit bad for the husband, but It’s not your business. You’re not getting involved.
Now let’s say you’re sitting waiting for the same bus and see your sister-in-law sitting in a car kissing another man who most definitely isn’t your brother.
Now, depending what sort of a person you are, there are several things that could go down here. Maybe you whip your phone out and ring your brother, or perhaps you go and knock on the window, let her know she’s been seen and give her the opportunity to come clean before you spill the beans, or you ring your mum – pass the moral dilemma on…
Whatever your reaction is, there is a reaction, because emotions are involved; you feel that this moral dilemma IS your business. And, in this case, might it be better to wait until your emotions aren’t so volatile before you decide to go in all guns blazing?
After all, we rarely know what’s really going on in other people’s lives and relationships – even those of our nearest and dearest.
You Need To Weigh The Pros And Cons Of Your Decisions!
Weighing up a list of pros and cons when you’re faced with a moral dilemma could bring to light all sorts of stuff that might help you to make a decision on what to do.
For example, let’s say you and your mate both work at the same pub. You’ve been best mates since you were 5 years old and you do everything together – in fact, she was the one that got you the job.
One day, at the end of shift, you see her take some money out of the till. You know her well enough to say, ‘what the fuck are you doing?’ so you do, but she refuses to put it back. You know she’s having some serious money troubles at the moment and is desperate.
So, do you tell your boss, or do you keep quiet and see what happens?
There are cons either way.
Even if you say nothing, that missing money will be noticed at some point and then the whole staff is under suspicion or the wrong person could be accused and perhaps lose their job. And, if you grass her up straight away, you can almost certainly say goodbye to her as a mate… plus, if you say nothing and she does get caught, and your boss finds out you knew all along, it’s not going to look good for you.
Looking at the pros and cons of each decision should give you an idea of which course of action is going to create the least amount of injustice and pain to the parties involved – in other words, which decision is for the greater good?
When it comes to moral dilemmas, someone is inevitably going to get hurt, it’s pretty much unavoidable, but considering the advantages and disadvantages to each decision will help you to work out how all of the people involved will be impacted.
Basically, a moral dilemma has you over a barrel. No matter how you handle it, there is no right or wrong answer that will satisfy everyone – someone’s gonna come a cropper, possibly you if the messenger does indeed get shot.
If you are a consequentialist; a person who places emphasis on the consequences of one’s actions, you would focus on what the positive and negative consequences of your actions would be.
So, what should we be looking at when we’re facing a moral dilemma? The consequences, the moral ‘rules’ or the characters of the people involved. They all matter, sure, but, when it comes to ethics, what matters the most?
It all depends on who you ask.
Or perhaps you are a deontologist, more concerned with making sure that the action they are considering taking aligns with their morals.
Or maybe, for you, it’s all about virtue and integrity, and your focus is on character: ‘what would a person of good character do when faced with this situation?’ Or do you only have integrity when it suits you?
After all, integrity is a bit like being pregnant…. You cant be a little bit pregnant!
I mean, ideally you want to take all of these perspectives on board when you’re faced with a moral dilemma. Your character is incredibly important, but the moral rules and the consequences of our actions are relevant – you could even argue that you can’t really have one without the other.
When all is said and done, when it comes to a moral dilemma, all you can really do is go with whatever decision is going to afford you the best night’s sleep. There are those out there who would even say, ‘don’t get involved’ and ‘if it doesn’t personally affect me, I couldn’t give a shit’….should we be taking a leaf out of their books?
It’s hard when the moral dilemma in question involves someone you care about to take a step back and not get involved – even harder, some might say, if the moral dilemma involves someone you don’t care for, and by getting involved you could get one up on them.
What it really boils down to is emotions – other members of the animal kingdom don’t find themselves in moral dilemmas do they…doing immoral things is a human flaw, so perhaps, not knowing what to do when we’re faced with that flaw makes us realise just how human we really are.