Moral Dilemma: To Tell or Not to TellAuthor Name(s), First M. Last, Omit Titles and Degrees
Institutional Affiliation(s)Moral Dilemma: To Tell or Not to TellSocial media is something that is supposed to an enjoyable extra commodity in life. It is used to make new friends, keep in touch with old friends and show what is going on in our own lives. Unfortunately, people may live a double life and social media can reveal that, on the most part unintentionally. When this moral dilemma arises from this shocking discovery, how to handle it can put a person into a very difficult situation.
One day, perusing through Facebook, I came across a profile that looked similar to a good friend’s boyfriend of three years. The issue was there was another woman in the picture. This profile picture is not the same as the one that I have seen on her page. I clicked on it after some initial hesitation, out of curiosity. The profile showed that he had been married since 1999! I have been on several double dates with her and her boyfriend over the years and only though he had a son and had never been married. I went through various scenarios in my head, that maybe this was an old Facebook page, but there had been recent updates on it, and was my friend aware of her boyfriend being married or not.
Friendship consists of being compassionate and honesty. My friend has a young son and has introduced him to her boyfriend. I felt that this is not a good situation for him to be involved in, as he has a great relationship with his biological father. The mother also gets along well with him, and I see this causing trouble down the road. For the sake of honesty, I decided to discuss my findings with her because I feel that she is young and could be wasting her time on something that may never come to fruition. The issue was, maybe she already knows, and is under the impression that her boyfriend is going to leave his wife for her. I have seen these situations before and they usually do not turn out well.
Unfortunately, my friend was aware that her boyfriend was married. Regardless of her having knowledge of this situation, I feel that it was indeed in my best interest to tell her. The issue with friendships when children are involved and other friends become involved can bring about moral dilemmas when someone has delicate information as such. It would have been easier to not bring it up and just pretend I never knew. Then the situation can become tenuous because there have been times when her boyfriend has accompanied a group of us couples on a trips and other events. Though my friend seems to have a comfort level with the situation, as her friend it us my responsibility to give her clarity in this situation.
Though Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are theories, they are applicable to this situation. Many people would preserve their own well-being and perception of being kind and nice and well received from their friends. Presenting information that may sound accusatory or judgmental to a good friend could come across as a betrayal and could damage a friendship permanently. But not using moral reasoning in making a difficult decision as this one can be problematic also because Kohlberg like myself was did regard the behavior of people, but their reasoning behind it. “According to Kohlberg’s moral development theory, individuals who reach the post-conventional level live by their own ethical principle, including basic human rights as life, liberty, and justice” (Fang, et al., para.3, 2017). This situation most broadly reaches into the post-conventional area of Kohlberg’s moral development. I was not motivated by self-interest, which would keep me in the first stage of being pre-conventional (Fang, et al., 2017) which would be rather immature. I gained nothing out of discovering and relaying this information to my friend.
As for the second stage of conventional, of maintaining social order, that would have been the stage most people would have been satisfied with remaining (Fang, et al., 2017). Maintaining the good standing with my friend and those we associate with could have been an easier choice and not caused any turmoil. Finally, choosing to tell her for the reasons of worrying about her son and her well-being is definitely the post-conventional stage whereas I was motivated by ethical principles (Fang, et al., 2017).
In Western society, the invocation of autonomy reigns supreme. Many people look for self-preservation and self-interest. Coming from the belief of he Eastern traditions of Buddhism it was necessary for me to invoke the ethic of divinity in this situation. Not for the sake of saving my soul, but for reaching my friends heart and soul, to help her see the problems that could arise from her choice. One great motto of Buddhism is to do no harm. I would have harmed myself from keeping this information inside of me, and most importantly harmed my friend by not telling her and risk seeing her, and her son get hurt in the long run, from false promises of the married boyfriend.
In today’s society, youth who are emerging into adulthood have seem to have decided to pick and choose of what they feel is ethical and what is not. Maybe this was present in the past, but with social media it is more visible. For instance, Jensen built moral development around three ethics. The ethic of Autonomy expresses the individual as the chief moral expert, unhindered in choices except by their own predilections (Arnett, Ramos, & Jensen, 2001). Those who revolve their choices around autonomy believe in their individual rights, they often believe that they are free to choose as they please, as long as they feel it is not hurting someone else. (Arnett, Ramos, & Jensen, 2001). My friend felt that she was not harming anyone, but she is harming the marriage of her boyfriend and her and her son’s stability. On the other hand, the ethic of Community describes people as followers of collective people who think alike and have common ground to which they have promises and responsibilities (Arnett, Ramos, & Jensen, 2001). In conjunction with Kohlberg’s moral reasoning this would have involved me staying in this stage because I could have kept with the status quo and not disrupted the community of friends by just keeping the information to myself. These groups can range from friendship circles, community groups, school peer groups and religious groups (Arnett, Ramos, & Jensen, 2001). The final ethic is that of Divinity gives definition of an individual as a spiritual being, with the focus on the prescriptions of a spiritual or the order of the universe. These beliefs may also encompass religious beliefs from divine books such as the Bhagavad Gita an old Hindu scripture book used in Hinduism and Buddhism for guidance.
I definitely fell into the ethic of Divinity category in this situation. My moral compass guided me past self-interest or autonomy, and definitely past the need to save face in front of a circle of friends. I was guided by the belief of Karma, that if I held this information I was harming my sense of self and my duty as a friend to be honest. Belonging in this category in this situation does not give me the right to judge anyone involved in the issue. Using Divine ethics does not give anyone the high moral ground, because everyone falls short. The reasoning I used stemmed from a combination of post-conventional reasoning and ethical Divinity. This is not about who is right or wrong in this type of situation, but the conscious choice to use moral and ethical reasoning to attempt to bring about a good outcome for the party being affected.
Moreover, my friend is still dating the married boyfriend, but has limited her son seeing him based upon my advice. The advice was more based off of the ethical harm it can do her son and the successful relationship she has built with his biological father. Making moral judgments should be based off of looking at the whole picture and not judging the parties involved in order to maintain clarity and not be biased. Kohlberg’s theories relate more to how and when someone develops moral reasoning while Jensen relies on three distinct viewpoints from an individual perspective that can explain why someone does something or not. Overall, both can be intertwined to give a better vantage point of moral reasoning and development.
Arnett, J. J., Ramos, K. D., & Jensen, L. A. (2001). Ideological Views in Emerging Adulthood: Balancing Autonomy and Community. Journal of Adult Development, 8(2), 69-79. doi:https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1026460917338
Fang, Z., Jung, W. H., Korczykowski, M., Luo, L., Prehn, K., Xu, S., . . . Rao, H. (2017). Post-conventional moral reasoning is associated with increased ventral striatal activity at rest and during task. Scientific Reports, 7(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-07115-w