She drives 25 mph above the speed limit, runs a red light, and cuts across a lawn to avoid being slowed down by the line of traffic at a 4-way stop sign.
Is she drunk?
Maybe caught up in a fit of road rage?
Or maybe there's a child in the back seat who needs immediate medical care, and the driver is frantically trying to get to the hospital.
Situational Ethics - Does Love Always Make Things Right?
Theologian Joseph Fletcher coined the term "Situation Ethics" in his 1966 book by that name. Fletcher's work gives voice to a concept philosophers have long debated: Is there ever a time when doing the "wrong thing" is the right thing to do?
There are just three primary ways to make decisions, according to Fletcher:
For Fletcher, situations can and do change, but there's one guide that can always point us in the best direction: Love.
Those who act with kindness, and compassion can never be wrong, even though their actions seem outlandish.
And while Fletcher's book met an eager audience of young people who protested the Vietnam War with love-ins, flowers, and peace symbols, the questions situation ethics would soon be called upon to address became increasingly difficult to fathom:
Heavy topics like these can stir up a lively debate in any conversation, but the real weight of the concepts isn't fully felt until one is faced with a significant personal crisis that demands a response.
Should the hospital "pull the plug" on a loved one? Should parents encourage their teenage daughter to get an abortion?
What is the right thing to do?
Should Business Be Concerned with Situational Ethics?
Consider the range of commercial dilemmas proposed by tough situations. For example, GMO crops may offer an economically valid way to end global hunger.
On the other hand, agribusiness gobbles up family farms and requires liberal applications of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that threaten the health of both croplands and humans.
Nonprofit status doesn't exempt an organization from scrutiny. There's an ongoing controversy over an organization that helps children and their families.
The Kars4Kids jingle plays from radios nationwide, especially in the New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. metro areas.
It's a win-win situation: People donate cars they no longer need, then get a healthy tax deduction and a vacation voucher for their generosity. It feels good. After all, it's "cars for kids," right?
What donors may not know, though, is that the money doesn't go to all kids -- only to those who belong to a certain religious faith, one the donor may not wish to support.
The Los Angeles Times said officials in Oregon and Pennsylvania sued Kars4Kids and forced changes in their marketing methods.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune took the story even further:
"Oregon also found that Kars4Kids failed to disclose that its "free" vacation vouchers offered at the time recruited people for a timeshare and contained hidden costs."
Is it okay to use questionable tactics to accomplish work we feel is important? Does the end always justify the means?
Fletcher would say it all hinges on whether Kars4Kids is operating out of love. Reality, though, says money and love often have a tough time cohabiting.
Logotherapy - Does Attitude Always Make All the Difference?
Another writer and philosopher, Viktor Frankl, set forth his observations on life by suggesting an approach to contentment that juxtaposed human will with a universal desire to find meaning in life.
Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, was imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII. From within the closed laboratory afforded by concentration camps, he learned how to predict who would be next to die.
Prisoners who gave in to futility and decided life no longer made sense were doomed. Those who found a will to go on, who found meaning within the insanity, lived on.
For Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The Viktor Frankl Institute provides ongoing education about Frankl and his work. Their website (logotherapyinstitute.org) is an excellent launching pad for the basic concepts of the work:
- Life has meaning under all circumstances
- The main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life
- Life presents us with the freedom to find meaning
What if we were civilian prisoners of war? What if soldiers murdered our families while we watched helplessly? Could we find a situational way to love, despite the cruelty?
There are no easy answers here. Forgiveness can be difficult to find, yet those who harbor hate and resentments are never truly happy.
The Crisis in Everyday Life - Dealing with the Inescapable
There is one situational ethics dilemma each of us is faced with daily. It's a predicament steeped in meaning, and it leaves us with a choice only we can make.
For instance, what if one spouse decides the marriage is no longer satisfying and decides to leave? The "innocent one" get the kids, the bills, and the second car. The "guilty one" gets a new sweetie, the new car, and a new life.
There's plenty of reason for resentment there. Who could bless another under such circumstance?
Whether it's an unfaithful partner, a disappointing turn of events in ones career, a rebellious teenager, or the doctor uttering the "C" word, we all have a choice to make.
And the way we choose will make all the difference.
Shall we listen to Fletcher's advice and "Live in love"?
Should we consider the situation in light of Frankl's assertion about "the last of the human freedoms"?
Whatever our philosophical choices or spiritual leanings, there is ONE factor that controls how our lives will go on any given day.
It is this: We must decide who holds the keys to our happiness.
If anyone or anything else must change before our lives can be okay, we've effectively given control over to that person or situation.
And the changes we demand could be a long time coming.
The surest base of possibility begins with the individual. Until we are able to accept personal responsibility for how our lives go, there will always be a reason for misery.
And once we do accept the part life has assigned us, there will always be a reason for joy.
To find out more online:
About the Author:
Writer, Dreamer, Believer. Friend of Entrepreneurs. Don Sturgill lives in Bend, Oregon, but helps clients worldwide set and accomplish content goals. Visit his home on the web at donsturgill.com, or get in touch via Twitter @DonSturgill.