Shalblog® Industries recently acquired from a deep source, a document which purports to be from an upcoming New York Crimes Sunday Magazine issue. The manuscript pages seem to be an impending edition of the popular Dear Ethicist column, wherein the award-winning NY Crimes ethics columnist answers his readers’ knotty moral dilemmas.
I recently evicted a score of tenants from a building I own. It is obviously unfortunate, but do you think that as a homeowner I am ethically obligated to file a change of address form with the Postal Service for each former tenant?
The Ethicist replies: You’re under no obligation to fill out the postal forms yourself; however, if some of the tenants were disabled, or became disabled as a result of the eviction proceedings, then it would be a gracious gesture, though not a legal one, to perhaps provide the forms and pens to those still camped out on your doorsteps.
A colleague recently uncovered massive fraud and deception at work while updating the department’s computer operating system. Should I report my colleague directly to my boss, or would it be better simply to send an anonymous letter so that no one’s feelings are hurt?
The Ethicist replies: It’s certainly thoughtful of you not to want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it may be the situation calls for honesty among friends. Your co-worker deserves to know of your loyalty to your company, so that after his release from prison he might model himself on someone who gives 100% to the job. As they say, a good example is the best teacher.
Last week, while at my home computer supervising the remote drone bombing of a Syrian village, a friendly colleague who I hadn’t seen in a number of months came by to help me out. My wife says that after such a long absence the colleague should have brought over a little gift of some kind to acknowledge the long absence. I feel if we’re friends, then we shouldn’t have to rest on formality. Who is right?
The Ethicist replies: Unannounced visits can be startling to one’s partner, even if you yourself welcome the visit. Perhaps your wife felt that she should be compensated in some way for the inconvenience a sudden “drop-in” might cause. Or, and this is something you might take up with your spouse privately at a quiet time, perhaps your loved one feels shut out when you and your colleague conduct bombing raids and leave her out. Nobody likes feeling left out, and in the future, you might invite her to try her hand at the controls, even if it’s just a small hut or two and not a major population center.
My grandmother, whose Medicare does not pay for dental care, has taken to losing teeth whenever she eats her favorite apple crumb pie. We hate to ban the pie from her diet, but we never know whether a tooth should go into the compost heap, the plastics and metals, or just the regular trash, so now they are just piling up. Which would be the more environmentally correct way to dispose of them?
The Ethicist replies: It’s one of the truisms of modern life that as we try to treat the planet better, things can get more confusing. It depends whether Granny’s teeth are her own or some kind of replacement. If they were her own, they are organic and should go in the compost heap; if they are replacements, then they are probably an amalgam of plastic and metal and should go in the re-cycling bin, assuming your town or city has separate streams for such. The good news is that even under the worst possible scenario, you will only have to make the decision 32 times, since Grandma has no insurance to replace the teeth.
As head of a medical supply company, in a recent merger, I acquired the patent of a new life-saving drug. Based on supply and demand and what the market will bear, I tripled the consumer price. My investors have congratulated me over how the company’s stock price has soared. However, some patients can no longer afford the medication. Would it be all right to organize a picnic for those poorer patients in order to make their final days more pleasant? And do you think it should be on a weekday or on a weekend? And would it be okay to institute a no pets policy for those who may be allergic?
The Ethicist replies: When I last taught my Ethics 101 class at Harvard University, we had a similar situation come up in the very classroom itself. There was one student who could no longer pay tuition after the most recent tuition hike, and though we didn’t arrange a picnic as you are considering, we did take up a collection to present the student with a 10% off coupon for the Red Lobster restaurant of his choice. It turned out the boy was an observant Jew, and so couldn’t use the coupons, but it’s always important to remember that it is the gesture that is remembered. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I am in a rather powerful political position. It is not easy, especially as a woman, to handle the volume of complaints I must deal with. The number of emails in my inbox from constituents who carp about not having enough bread to eat has gotten to the point where I spend more time answering their emails than all my other work combined. Should I just direct their complaints to the SPAM folder, or would it be more efficient to remind them through autoreply that in a pinch they could just eat cake? I don’t want to impugn the intelligence of my unimaginative constituents, but it’s not rocket science.
The Ethicist replies: The stresses of a responsible job can make us all a little bit cranky at times, it comes with the territory. While it was considerate of you to offer an alternative to bread, it may be wise to remember that not everybody can digest gluten-based products. There are some cake mixes on the market today that offer a healthier choice. Perhaps replying with a photo or two of some oat-based or quinoa-based bakery goods might stimulate the imaginations—and palates!—of your more idea-challenged constituents.
Is it ethical to write a column that focuses on everyday trivial matters of etiquette and ethics while ignoring and thus implicitly excusing the larger breaches of ethics and morality that your newspaper supports every single day?
(Unfortunately, the document ends here. You will have to supply your own answers.)