Everyday Ethics

I wish.

So, I’ve been hounding my friends like crazy lately. Why? Well,
lately I’ve felt fresh out of ethical dilemmas. My solution was to post a
status message on Facebook and instant messenger, begging people to send any ethical quandaries my way. I promised I’d make them famous (ish).

I received quite a few responses, and most of them were
rather funny (“I take press gifts that come in my assistant’s name; um, the
assistant I fired. Is that unethical?” “I intentionally steer the horrible and
obese attending in our hospital toward the stairs every day. Is that

One of my friends sent me two very different scenarios that he’d been mulling over for a bit. Both stories shared one trait; his ‘dilemma’ came about
when he just got so flippin’ annoyed with people that he gave up on doing the
right thing.

In the first story, he was on the DC metro, forced to listen to an extremely loud conversation by the girl sitting next to him. She spoke long enough and loud enough that he couldn’t help but hear all her plans for the near future – such as which stop she needed. However, when it came time for her stop, she was fast asleep.

Due to the girl’s lack of subway etiquette, my friend obviously knew it was time for her to get off the train. And he was this close to tapping her awake. But he didn’t. He rationalized the decision a bit, arguing that she would have been startled by a creepy stranger touching her, or eavesdropping on her conversation. But in the end, he admitted that if she hadn’t been yapping so loudly in the first place, he probably would have said something and she wouldn’t have missed her stop (he was especially guilt-ridden because she was on her way to the airport). But she was just so. darn. annoying….

In his second story, he explained how he receives a lot of misdirected emails because his name is so common. For a long time, he would email these people back and explain that he didn’t think the message was meant for him. He especially received a lot of mail for a man in London. After doing research, finding an alternative address, and forwarding email after email to this man explaining the situation, he got irritated by the lack of acknowledgement or response and just started deleting the emails. He recently received a message that contained the answer to a question his alter ego was clearly waiting for, and simply filed it away.

Obviously he didn’t forget about these incidents; he also isn’t losing sleep over them (being relatively small incidents, I’d be worried if he did). I also can’t bring myself to wag my finger – honestly, sometimes people just annoy me so much I can’t even bear to look at them, let alone act righteously toward them. Is there a point when another’s nails-on-chalkboard voice/actions/bad etiquette/impoliteness completely excuse us from our own responsibility? Or are we required to be our best at regardless and separately of their actions? I’m afraid I know the answer, but thought I would throw the question out there just in case.

Sidenote: Obviously this touches on the bigger question of all our ethical interactions, but I found my friend’s fretting to be rather cute, thus decided to focus on his two scenarios.

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