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  • Reverend James Squire

A Mother’s Dilemma

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Obi Onyeador

I would normally begin my Ethics classes by raising a question or describing something in the news so that the students could see how what we were studying could be applied to real life. These would turn out to be a lively way to begin a class.

One of the questions that I posed was: “What would you do if you pulled into a parking lot, opened your door, and by accident scratched a Porsche that was parked next to you. There was usually a flurry of issues raised by the students. How big is the scratch? Did anyone see you do it? If a person could afford a porch, they should be able pay for it on their own. Eventually the key question would be raised. Should you leave a note with an apology and your telephone number to be reached to pay for the repair? Their answers were all over the place regarding what they would do and why?

They indicated that it would depend on whether their car was ever scratched like that as that would involve your being empathetic. If you had someone leave a note on your car, then you would be more empathetic and more inclined to leave a note. Would you feel guilty if you didn’t? Has that kind of thing ever happened to you and what did you do? Did you have a reference point of your action available to you?

I added to the discussion when they had finished their exchanges with one another about a situation that happened to me. The situation pointed to how context shapes decisions.

I went to see our student athletes play in a game at a nearby school. I had to park on the street which was legal to do. If I parked illegally that would have changed the shape of the discussion. When I came back to my car, the electric rear view mirror on the driver’s side was hanging off the car by its wiring. I was angry. However, there was a note under my wind shield wiper with an apology, name, and a phone number to call. I must say that I was surprised!

I made the call. The woman who tore off the rear view apologized and directed me to go to my body shop, have it repaired, and send her the bill. She had no idea who I was. I told her that I was the Chaplain of my school and asked her permission to share this great ethical action on her part without naming her. Then there was silence. She then indicated that, in that case, she should tell me the whole story to be totally honest.

Her two school age children were in the back seat watching the accident occur. She then said that she would probably not have left a note, but she did because she wanted to be a positive role model for her children. In ethics, you need to know what additional information you need to know to make the most ethical decision. Being a role model for her children was key.

When the class and I returned to our discussion about the scratched Porsche, most but not all, stated that their parents would have done the same thing for the same reason. For the most part, they felt that they would do the same thing as the woman and their parents after seeing a real life example of how leaving the note was the right thing to do.

During the Black Lives Matter Movement and the national response to the Pandemic, we should keep in mind what kind of modeling we are doing for our children. That would change a lot of the shape of our decisions. Keep in mind that Kamala Harris’ parents, one an economist and one a researcher, put her in a baby carriage so that her mother and father could continue to protest against injustice in a march. She remembered those times vividly. Could that behavior by her parents even back then set her on the path that would lead to Congress where correcting injustice should be the job of every politician? That would make them something even better than politicians. They could become patriots!

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