Originally created 05/26/01

Right or wrong?



President Lyndon Johnson once said that doing the right thing is easy - knowing the right thing is the hard part.

Most people would likely agree with him on the second statement - knowing is hard.

Or is it?

The Augusta Chronicle recently asked readers how they would respond in six hypothetical situations. Virtually all respondents preferred the anonymity of the Internet as they mulled over the moral dilemmas.

About 300 comments were posted.

Some questions were met with a clear-cut consensus while others generated a string of ruminations.

A typical exchange highlighted the thorny path to judgment online readers faced. Though they hid their identities with pen names, these authors, named Sniper, Bigfootme and Kittylover, freely shared their thoughts.

"I may just be paranoid, but it just seems suspicious that so many of these questions aren't really clear." - Sniper.

"I think you may be onto something because the questions weren't that detailed and it could be some kind of head game to figure us out." - Bigfootme.

"It's designed to be vague, as moral issues tend to be." - Kittylover.

"There is nothing vague about morality." - Sniper.

"Everyone has a different idea what morals are, and even the Good Book isn't exacting in all areas." - Kittylover.

True enough.

There was near unanimity about not playing matchmaker for a co-worker separated from his wife, but considerable debate over whether or when to express political opinions or whether to tell on a teen-ager seen leaving his house with his girlfriend when his parents were out of town.

The six dilemmas, a sampling of the readers' responses and comments from faith leaders follow. To see the online responses, visit the Judgements section of the AugustaChronicle.com Forums.

Situations and responses

The situation: Your company has sent you to an out-of-town conference. Attendance steadily drops to half as it approaches the final meetings. You skip the last session and head to the golf course.

THE RESPONSE:

"It depends on the seminar. Some are worthless or are putting out info you already know. Sometimes you can gain more by networking on the golf course."

"I would have left much sooner, rented a car and viewed some of the area, perhaps taking in the local sights and museums. I think that broadening my horizons would benefit my company much more than sitting through endless hours of boring lectures that I could have written. That is, of course, if I do know the course material and am actually bored. If I am learning, I will stay."

"Disagree. It shows lack of loyalty to the business."

FAITH LEADER'S COMMENT:

"If somebody is paying me to do something, I am responsible to carry out those obligations. It would be unethical to take money for something and go to the golf course instead. (To do so) is a form of stealing and being dishonest in not following through.

"The fact that others are leaving doesn't matter. We live by principles, not by the situation. The principles come from God; they emanate from his being, and that doesn't change. God is the reference point, not the situation. In everyday living, we reflect his honesty, faithfulness and integrity in fulfilling responsibilities and commitments. - the Rev. Roger Bennett, pastor, Overcomers Outreach Center, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention

The situation: A casual conversation with a group of five or six acquaintances turns to politics, and you realize quickly that your companions are strongly opposed to your views. You keep your opinions to yourself.

THE RESPONSE:

"Expressing my opinion is what I live for each day. The very notion of keeping my mouth shut in such a situation gives me a headache! Part of the selection process for friends is to determine if any compatibility exists. If I am unable to express myself around someone, then there really is no reason to foster a relationship. I do believe the context of the situation does have relevance (to) my reactions (say if this discussion was occurring at work), but I still would feel compelled to state my disagreement or else I would avoid such a situation in the future."

"I say you voice them if you have nothing significant to lose by doing so. If it is a group of VPs at your company, I say keep quiet. if the acquaintances are equals/peers who can do you no real harm, I say voice them."

"Off-line, and in public, discussing/debating politics and religion in mixed company (with people who might be offended by certain beliefs) is inappropriate."

FAITH LEADER'S COMMENT:

"I have never had a problem expressing my feelings and thoughts on issues, whether political, spiritual or any other nature. ... If you are the only one of the five who hold a particular view, you should be able to share your thoughts and opinions but do it in a knowledgeable way. Any convictions we hold we should be able to express freely, in a way that expresses knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. What I find is that people speak opinions without real knowledge." - Dr. Mark Harris, pastor, Curtis Baptist Church

The situation: Your neighbors are out of town and left their 17-year-old son at home alone. You notice the son and his girlfriend leaving the house late at night. You tell the parents.

THE RESPONSE:

"The parents in question probably wouldn't care one way or the other, but at least I would have a clear conscience in case something bad occurred."

"... Bottom line ... the kid is 17. His parents left him home by himself to watch over things. You are a nosey neighbor that has nothing better to do than spy out your windows at your neighbors. If they trust him, then you have no right to stick your nose into their business. Worry about your own life and let them worry about theirs!"

FAITH LEADER'S COMMENT:

"I suggest the neighbors do tell the parents. It is so difficult to raise good children these days. A little extra caution, although it might be unnecessary, is OK." - Rabbi Zalmon Fischer, Chabad of Augusta.

The situation: You are the seller of a house. On the day of closing you notice a trickle of water from the water heater. You mop it up and go to the closing.

THE RESPONSE:

"Disagree. I would have to notify the buyers of the potential problem."

"Absolutely notify the buyer. You would want to be notified if you were buying the house."

"It will cost you more if the problem is withheld. While people do so all the time, it's wrong to do so."

FAITH LEADER'S COMMENT:

"From my limited experience as an attorney ... this is a latent defect. Whether it is significant or not is a legal question. In many states, it wouldn't require a disclosure. The cost of replacement may not be significant in dollars - a $200 or $300 plumbing bill on a $100,000 house - but if the leak causes damage than that would have to be addressed.

"But as a minister, the ethical question (can be decided by) the Golden Rule - what would I have someone do if I were the buyer and not the seller?" - the Rev. Dan King, pastor, Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta

The situation: A girlfriend is looking for a date and an acquaintance comes to mind - a co-worker who is separated but not divorced from his wife. You play matchmaker.

THE RESPONSE:

"What kind of friend sets up someone with a married person? If a 'friend' did that to me, we wouldn't remain friends."

"Disagree. Not only is it morally wrong (in my opinion), it can really damage your co-worker's case in a divorce settlement."

"If one is separated, and it's agreed by both parties to look for another love, then it's OK. Sometimes people aren't ready to finally divorce but are divorced in every shade of the word (or they believe in 'open' relationships, which is another lifestyle altogether.)"

FAITH LEADER'S COMMENT:

No. I don't think it is appropriate since he is still married. I don't know if the situation would change if they divorce, but it is not appropriate to get in the middle of the relationship that he and his wife should be working on. It is not over until it is over." - the Rev. Joan Kilian, interim rector, Episcopal Church of Our Savior, Martinez

The situation: You apply for a job requiring two to three years' experience in a certain software program. You have minimal experience but apply, thinking you can catch up once you are on the job.

THE RESPONSE:

"Lying in an interview or on your resume is grounds for immediate dismissal."

"Having been there, I can honestly say that it depends on your level of knowledge in other software of the same type. I was questioned once on whether I could program in a certain language and said I would be able to. Within three months, I was proficient in that language. Took a lot of off-time studying but with my level of experience in similar languages I was able to do it."

"Apply. If you make it to the interview the interviewer will be better able to judge your meeting the requirements. Otherwise, nothing ventured, nothing gained."

FAITH LEADER'S COMMENT:

"Always tell the truth. The person should still apply, but I would stress the fact that I am a quick learner and a hard worker and I feel I could do the job. I would always be positive and always tell the truth." - Dr. Marty Baker, pastor, Stevens Creek Community Church

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.