I overheard a conversation the other day. The quick manipulation of morality to stretch doing the right thing was miserably revealing. One guy asked another if he were driving a car and a dog ran into the street and he hit the dog and broke its leg, would he stop to find the owner or help the dog?

“Did anyone see me hit the dog?” The second guy asked.

“No,” replied the first. “It’s dark. It’s you and the dog.”

“Is the dog dead?” “No. A broken leg. It will suffer, but live.”

“I don’t stop, then.”

 The first guy nodded and asked, “Okay, you hit a dog and break its leg, but instead of the dog coming into the street, you jump the curb and hit the dog sitting leashed on its front lawn.

Do you stop and help or do you leave?”

“Did anyone see me jump the curb?” “Nope. It’s you and the dog.”

“And the dog isn’t dying, right?”

“It’s yelping. And suffering. Not dying.”

“No other damage done to anything else after I jumped the curb, right?”

“Right.” “I keep going, then.”

The first guy paused and then said; “Now let’s say there are video cameras on you both times.” “With night vision?”

“Infrared. They see everything.”

“Then I stop.”

“Both times?” “Of course! I’m caught.”

The first guy stared at the second for a moment, then cleared his throat and said, “Okay. Now let’s say it’s a little boy instead of a dog…” They ran through all the scenarios again substituting “boy” for “dog.”

The answers did not change.

42 Comments

  1. Exactly, Gordon: “Stretchable.”
    It shouldn’t make any difference if we have a video camera on us or not.
    If you are doing the right thing and living a moral life you behave the same way “off camera” as you do “on camera.”

  2. It’s too bad that people don’t have an internal code of ethics and instead have to have them imposed from the outside.
    This is a major reason why we have so many of the problems that we have today.
    It seems that people leave the scene of accidents in the urban core, more than they stay around.
    There was a hit-and-run accident in my area yesterday:
    From the Post-Tribune:

    A truck driver pulling out of a Lake Station truck stop hit and killed a man with his semi-tractor trailer Sunday, police said, and then left the scene.
    Timothy Runde, 59, of Clinton Township, Mich., died after sustaining blunt-force trauma, the Lake County coroner’s office said.
    Lake Station Det. Sgt. Kevin Garber said officers were questioning the man they believed was responsible for Runde’s death. As of Sunday afternoon, Garber said, officers were not sure of the suspect’s intentions.
    “It is unclear whether or not he knew he struck him.” Garber said.

    A list of recent hit-and-run accidents is kept at Deadly Roads. Even though there are a lot of incidents reported on the page, I bet they aren’t able to list every one that occurs because of reporting limitations.
    From Deadly Roads:

    It is called hit-and-run in the media, leaving the scene in the courts, and by many law enforcement officers, hit and skip. It is a failure on the part of a driver to stop, render aid, and accept responsibility for their part in an vehicle accident.
    Whatever you call it, it is killing hundreds of US citizens annually. After years of declining in numbers, the offense is now growing in ever increasing numbers and regularity.
    It is an equal opportunity crime, both from the perspective of the victim or the offender. It affects those of every age, race, sex, and social status. It leaves behind death, permanent injury, psychological trauma, and grieving family and friends with one basic question – why would anyone hurt, kill or maim someone, and just leave?
    In larger cities it happens with such regularity that some go unreported in the media. Others, so horrifically appalling in their nature, will get nationwide media attention. According to an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle (7/27/2003), an average of 3.8% of all deadly crashes in 2001, involved a hit and run driver (7.8% in California alone).
    Nearly one in five pedestrians (18%) killed on America’s roadways is the victim of a hit-and-run crash, according to a major research report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety (April 2003).

    On the other side, it doesn’t help that crowds in the urban core sometimes attack drivers who stop to render aid.
    From Poynter Online: “In July of 2002, national news coverage about a double murder embarrassed many Chicagoans: After a traffic accident, a vigilante mob beat to death two men in a van.” (poynter.org/dg.lts/id.19724/content.content_view.htm)
    From ABC7 Chicago: “A driver who struck two young girls as they played at an open fire hydrant was beaten by a group of men and his car set on fire. Police say the driver had stopped to help the girls, who were not seriously injured.” (abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=News&id=480903)
    We need to figure out a way to educate people as to their legal duty to stop. We also need to teach crowds to not let their emotions get the best of them and attack people who stop after accidents. Maybe this would solve some of the problems society faces.

  3. Deadly Roads is a great site, Chris! Thanks for that link.
    So where does morality come from within us?
    Are we born with it?
    Is morality learned?
    Does it matter if morality is tested or not?
    Is immorality just as important as its core word or is immorality just a gauge against a superior ethical end?

  4. I think we’re born with some innate sense of morality, but that environment greatly shapes our morality as we grow.
    For example, people have to be taught to hate, but don’t have to be taught to love. When a child is born, he or she instinctly loves his or her parents.
    I wonder if morality needs to be tested to make sure it is sound or developed?
    It’s easy to do the right thing if you one unable to do something bad.
    Would we say that a prisoner locked in solitary confinment who doesn’t do anything bad all day is a moral person? When he or she is released, can we assume the prisoner will follow society’s moral standards?
    Our religious traditions suggest that such testing is a constant of human life and that all humans, from Adam and Eve to Jesus (God in human form) were tested.
    I suspect that we learn morality from our parents, friends, neighbors, and others through their examples and from correction. Little kids don’t know certain things are harmful and must be protected and taught. The same thing goes for moral training. Look at the new emphasis on ethics training in MBA programs in the wake of Enron and other corporate scandals.
    I don’t think immorality is important to the existence of morality. We can determine someone is moral without comparing him or her to a polar opposite immoral person. We can have responsible CEOs without the need to have Enron-type businesses.
    However, we live in a flawed world, so we’ll always have immoral people.
    The key is to make sure the super-majority of people are taught how to be moral to limit the damage and decay to that caused by the small percentage of immoral people.

  5. That’s a great comment, Chris. You have many rich and intriguing thoughts.
    I agree that morality cannot stand alone while love can.
    You need immorality to form the moral way.
    Good and Evil are black and white by tradition while Morality and Immorality are more shades of grey today — not by design, but by intellectual evolution and generational rationalization where caveats and maybes are easier to blur and justify than the starkness of Good and Evil.

  6. “It shouldn’t make any difference if we have a video camera on us or not.”
    I totally agree. We should be our own monitor , our own policeman.
    I find “do as you will be done by” a very good starter for setting moral standards, along with “harm thee none” which is the Wiccan Rede.
    You might also like The Paradoxical Commandments by Kent M.Keith which can be found here: http://www.kentmkeith.com/commandments.html

  7. Hi Nicola!
    I like your quotes and I thank you for the link to Dr. Keith! Good stuff!
    I think some people are born with a moral clock that is more accurate and more regular than others. Those clocks don’t need testing and they don’t need confirmation of accuracy. It is always right — in a good way — and creates a sense of calm and well being in others.

  8. Hi All!
    “It’s too bad that people don’t have an internal code of ethics and instead have to have them imposed from the outside.”
    I fully agree. Although, as with other ideals, these seem to belong to the average person alone.(Average) The problem with morality and ethics is it’s all entirely interpretable with each individual following their own interpretation.
    We are programmed by our environment as to what our ideals are going to be, but, they are dynamic and we tend to modify them to meet our needs at certain times. Outside influences often directly affect the results between our intentions and our actions. Peer pressure, fear, and love are but a fraction of the influences that cause us to modify our morality.
    It’s unfortunate that society must impose laws and punishments for what should be a natural humanitarian act. Especially one that is accidental such as hitting a dog.
    I ask.. Where are the metrics and unit of measurements obtained to determine “the morality norm” and who makes the decision for that to be so. Is it not prejudicial to create an average and rule out the individual?
    I’m positive not everyone agrees with my morals. Does that make them wrong or a stretch of morality? I’m laughing now…

  9. CK raises a point.
    Is there a standard set of value that humankind innates knows is moral?
    Do we have a Natural Law that isn’t dependent upon the powers that be, i.e. the rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?
    Or, does all morality come from the determination of the leaders, masses, whoever is the most powerful, or the circumstances, i.e. Moral Relativism?
    I tend to believe that there is a natural law that guides humanity.
    Individual jurisdictions may have different laws, but there are legal constants that are always similar no matter where one is, i.e. stealing and killing is bad.
    In the urban core, a mother may tell her child to “Shoot baby shoot.” It might be moral within that mother’s twisted ethical framework for her to order her son to kill on her behalf, but most people in most societies anywhere in the world will condemn such activity, even if the law is silent.
    Bad facts will always create bad legal cases. But the exceptions to the rule, i.e. shooting someone in self-defense, doesn’t negate humankind’s general notions of what is right and wrong.
    Just because certain circumstances may cause societies to go crazy and accept mass killings — Hitler’s Germany, Rwanda, Pol Pot’s Cambodia are examples — doesn’t mean that the actions, even if legally or otherwise widely sanctioned, were correct or acceptable.

  10. Interesting comment, Cryptic!
    I think, for some people, morality is not only stretchable, but circumstantial and rarely sustainable in a predictable way.
    I know several married men with children who routinely cheat on their wives when they are in a different state or nation. They rationalize their cheating three ways:
    1. The laws of one state do not apply in another.
    2. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
    3. She’s probably doing the same thing.
    I find all of those excuses reprehensible.
    I also know men who, after being married for a long while, either lose their wife to divorce or death. They never marry or date again because:
    A. It would feel like cheating.
    B. No one could ever measure up to her.
    C. A marriage vow must never be broken.
    Now those examples are opposite extreme examples of immorality and morality.
    Which set of behaviors is more common?
    Which is more respected?
    They’re both likely untenable for most of us, but I confess I more admire the man who chooses to keep his marriage vows intact for all of his life even when those around him, perhaps even including his wife, do not.

  11. Chris —
    It’s interesting that we may have a moral genetic code that — I believe – that initially urges us to come together instead of killing each other.
    There must be some kind of unconscious moral rationale that brings us closer to each other to build communities and families instead of scattering to create things apart from each other.
    It must have been an interesting moment in the history of modern humankind when those in the community realized the first intentional murder happened.
    It must have been horrifying to think someone could do that to someone else.
    I wonder if the penalty at that moment for taking a life was the instant loss of your own life or if there was some sort of way to figure out if the killing was “justified” — another moral stretch, eh? — or not?

  12. Jeff told me about an incident with his ex girlfriend not too long after we got together. His girlfriend lived in upstate New York, and he lived in Ontario. As he drove her home after her spending the weekend in Canada they were arguing.
    A cat ran out into the road and Jeff didn’t see it in time to stop without hitting it. He distinctly felt the wheel hit the cat as he slammed the brakes on. As he opened the car door to check the cat his girlfriend turned round and said What are you doing? Jeff replied that he was going to check the cat. She said what for? It’s only a cat! Then she got out of the car and said fine, if you want to check the cat then do it, I’ll walk the rest of the way. Jeff had no choice but to get back in the car and drive her home.
    He said that all the way back on the way home he was in tears thinking about this cat. When he got to the place where he’d hit it, he stopped the car and got out to look for it. He couldn’t find it anywhere so he was hoping that someone had seen it, stopped and taken it to a vets. It took him weeks to get over the guilt he felt over the whole incident. Ironically, his girlfriend called their relationship off the very next day.
    I remember my reaction when he told me about that incident. This girl has 2 young children. I said what if that was one of her kids? Would she have still said the same thing? What if the person who ht her kid then drove off because there was nobody around? Would she say the same thing then?
    It amazes me the amount of people who will hit an animal or even a person and drive off because there’s nobody around to see what they did. It makes me sick that these said people have so little respect for others, be it an animal or another person.

  13. That is a rough story to hear, Dawn! I thank you for sharing it, though, because it shows how good people can be conflicted.
    I think how people treat animals is revelatory about them as a person than how they treat other people.
    Unfortunately my experience has been most people aren’t all that kind to their pets, let alone animals in general (and I’m not talking about eating them or making any kind of Vegan-only statement).

  14. Yeah, I totally understand where you’re coming from. We’ve visited a fair few Animal Shelters when we’ve been looking to adopt either a Cat or a Dog, and some of the stories we’ve been told are horrendous.
    I cannot understand why people could mistreat an animal because they “don’t turn out like they hoped” or “didn’t realize how much work was involved”
    It makes me sick.

  15. I wanted to share a story of my friend who was driving at 60/hr; tried to save a squirrel on the road, swerved to the opposite direction, discovered a truck coming so he decided to hit a tree instead of going in front of the truck and was severely injured. He didn’t die, neither the squirrel.
    Was it appropriate? To me, yes – anytime. Would I do the same thing? Yes. That will be instinctive. I don’t think I will be able to stop the reaction. No matter how stupid it sounds.
    To some people it is foolish.
    To me what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.
    Morality doesn’t stretch unless we stretch it.

  16. Right, Dawn!
    If you want an animal — rescue one. Most people want kittens and puppies, though. They don’t want full grown animals. Visit a shelter — even if you’re hard-hearted — and you will never be the same again. The sadness and the foreknowing in the animals is devastating. That’s why they all cry so hard for your attention. They want to live.
    Is adoption any different when it comes to human beings? Most people want to adopt infants while the older children wither away in orphanages and foster care silently crying out that they want to live, too.

  17. KATHA!
    There you are! I worry when I don’t hear from you for a few days! I am glad you are still around and I hope ND is treating you as royally and as elegantly as you deserve to be treated!
    I thank you for your story. 99.99% of the people would choose hitting the squirrel over meeting the tree and probably 50% of that 99.99% would aim for the squirrel just for fun.
    Cruelty comes in many forms and it always fascinates me how many good people tolerate cruelty to animals when they would never abide that cruelty against a person.

  18. Yes! I am back!!! 😀
    Sorry…couldn’t be online for last few days as I had to take care of some teething problems. I felt like being in an exile! Now I am all set!
    Thankfully people here in NDSU are pretty helpful and friendly… they trust more before they test!
    I completely understand what you are saying, it’s a mode of operation – I can’t operate that way. I would just stop functioning.

  19. I’m an adopted child. I was adopted at 10 weeks old. So, I know what it’s like to a certain extent. I’ve always known that I was adopted, my parents never hid that from me.
    We all cry out to be loved no matter what. It’s instinct. Whether a child is adopted as a baby, or at an older age, there’s always going to be that hole deep inside.
    I’ve experienced that hole. it’s the not knowing where you belong, where you came from, and the feeling that you can’t possibly be loved because your boilogical parents didn’t love you enough to want to keep you. Even though I know the circumstances behind my adoption, I’ve never met my birth mother and the searches I’ve done so far have been futile. I guess I still need to come to terms with the fact that she won’t be found unless she wants to be. That’s a hard fact for any child to accept.
    Now my children don’t live with me. but on the other hand, they know I love them. They receive Cards and letters regularly, hand delivered by my father so we can be sure the kids actually get to read the letters and cards, they know I’ll always be there for them, and they know that I’ll protect them to the best of my ability. Living apart doesn’t diminish the love a mother feels for her children.
    Thats why I find it hard to come to terms with the fact that my birth mother is so difficult to find. As a mother, wouldn’t she want to see how her child has grown up and turned out as a young adult? I could never forgive myself if I didn’t see my children grow up into adults.

  20. Yay! Katha’s back! Do you have your own computer? Do you have an internet connection where you are living or do you have to logon from the library or computer lab or something?
    I am glad you are getting settled. It is good to learn you are being treated in a kind way. That’s important. You are now a part of their intellectual core!
    I can’t operate that way, either. It makes us lonesome sometime, but that’s the lot of our lives!
    😀

  21. Oh, that’s a sad story, Dawn. I wonder if there’s anything short of meeting your birth mother that would fill that hole inside you?
    She may be too ashamed to meet you. She may think you’re angry with her. She may not know you are searching for her. It’s a selfless act to give up a child — maybe she feels it would be selfish for her to try to find you now? She may not know that you know you’re adopted.
    I hope you can find some closure on that matter someday.
    Thank you for sharing your story. I know there are others who may be in the same situation as you but who are unable to express their sorrow so eloquently as you.

  22. I am yet to get an internet connection in my apartment but will get one soon, till then it’s my office computer!
    We all are lonesome in our own way but never lonely – it’s the basic attitude of people that speaks! Fence sitters are always around!

  23. In reply to Dawn specifically …….
    I too am adopted …. at six weeks.
    I was always told I was chosen as opposed to being found under a gooseberry bush, or illegitimate.
    I have never yet got into that hole ……. I feel a loyalty to my adoptive parents and feel I would be *slapping* then in the face by hunting for my birth parents. My adoptive parents are the only ones I have ever known, I am what I am and who I am due to their love and care. This may change when they die – I rather hope it doesent.

  24. David, this “video camera on us concept” reminded me one more quotation by Alphonse Karr:
    ” Every man has three characters – that which he exhibits, that which he has and that which he thinks he has…” –
    It’s sad that we tend to sneak when no one is looking.

  25. I remember in drivers’ education being taught that we should hit the animal if it pops into the roadway, rather than swerving into another lane and hitting a car or jamming on the brakes and causing a chain reaction collision.
    Of course, I brake for animals if I can, but I always remember being told that.
    One day, while driving on I-294 near where it merges with I-94 in Chicago.
    There’s a pond between I-94 and I-294 at that section of the roadway. Geese had gotten onto the side of the road and were trying to cross during the morning rush hour.
    A car in front of me swerved and almost went out of control trying to avoid the geese.
    I was a few cars behind it and was worried it would crash into other cars or suddenly stop and cause a chain reaction crash.
    I thought about what could be done, if anything for the geese.
    People honked their horns at the geese and they stayed on the side of the road as I drove by.
    On my local drive to the office, there’s a pond where geese occassionally cross the road. I’ll always stop for them because the speed and visibility on the road is fine.
    But, on a highway where cars are going 80 MPH, to stop or even swerve could mean death for geese and drivers alike.

  26. I think we must have had the same Driver’s Ed teacher, Chris! I was taught the same thing: Hit the animal in the road.
    Except, of course, if it’s a deer or an elk — they’ll kill YOU if you hit them because they’re big enough to go over your hood and slam through the windshield to kill you.
    It was interesting how we were supposed to be cautious for some animals while others were fine to kill.
    My grandfather taught me to never worry about hitting a bird because, he said, they’re aerodynamic and have faster reflexes and can respond to air currents, so he’d tell me to aim right at them and by the time the car got to that spot they’d be gone. I used that in the past and it worked every time.

  27. I was in a van that hit a deer. We were lucky that it jumped into the roadway and sideswiped the van. It must not have been hurt too badly, because it ran off into the wilderness.
    But, you are right deer being deadly.
    Here’s a sad deer – car collision story that shows the dangerous conditions on the roadway:

    November 8, 2005 – A tollway tragedy in northern Indiana: two people were killed after their car hit a deer darting across the roadway.
    As they tried to move their damaged vehicle a truck ran them down.

    (abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=local&id=3614950)
    I was also in a truck that got hit by a bird.
    It was a Dodge Ram, so I’m not sure if the lack of areodynamics was the cause, but a small bird swooped right in front of the truck and cracked the windshield.

  28. Hi Chris —
    Deer can do great damage to vehicles. Unfortunately, if they get hit they usually are able to stay on their feet but they suffer and die of internal injuries in the woods later. Sometimes it takes them days to die. No good comes from slamming into a deer on either end of the bargain.
    I have a feeling my grandfather may have been inventing a myth about the birds — he lived in a really rural area where birds were EVERYWHERE and I was terrified to sit on this lap and “drive” as a youngster along the backroads for fear of killing them. He probably made up the story just to give me more confidence in the effort.

  29. Hi David,
    Your grandfather might have been right. Slowing down for a bird changes the airflow and might not allow the bird to clear the car.

    Many birds cannot rise fast enough to evade an oncoming car without using the air current the car pushes to provide extra lift.
    If you brake too abruptly for a bird flying straight ahead of you, you may take away the push he needs and send him crashing into your windshield.
    Lift your foot off the gas and slow down gently, gradually, until the bird rises above your car or peels away to one side.
    Be especially aware that birds may fly into the road when close to potentially intoxicating food sources, such as pyracantha berries, any sort of fermenting fruit, or freshly sprayed fields, where dying insects may become a lethal temptation.
    If trees arch over a road, fledglings may fall from nests into the road in late spring.
    Should you try to rescue one­­or any animal in the road­­use your car as a shield against oncoming traffic, with your four-way flashers on.

    (animalpeoplenews.org/IMPORTANT_MATS/roadkillTips1104.htm)

  30. Ooo! I love that Chris, thanks for that keen link!
    It’s good to know grandpa was right. I remember him teaching it to me as he drove right “into” the birds and it was amazing to watch how they glided right over us and around us like some kind of wind ballet — now I understand they needed that extra air flow to get the lift they needed to get out of the way. Cool!

  31. Nicola, I didn’t mean to imply that every single adopted child feels that way. If it came across that way, I apologize.
    I too was told I was chosen and that it made me special because my adoptive parents chose me specially … (along with my sister 2 years later adopted from a different family) and to me, they ARE my parents.
    I struggled with my feelings before embarking on a search for my Biological parents and sat down with my parents and discussed it with them first. I explained that yes, they are my parents, and I’ll always class them as my parents, they brought me up – but at the same time, I needed to know where I came from. I started to search only with the understanding that my parents would understand, and they have. They’ve also supported me every step of the way.
    I am eternally grateful that they chose to adopt me. I know the upbringing I had was, and continues to be, much better than the upbringing I would have had if my biological mother had decided to keep me. As you said, I am who I am because of my adoptive parents.
    Unfortunately, I’m one of those who has a hole inside me that can only be filled once I know who gave birth to me.

  32. Hi Dawn
    Thank you for writting back and developing what you had to say.
    I just felt I had to give an alternative view.
    Your post has however made me think back in a lot of ways.
    I guess I was brought up to appreciate what I had rather than seek what I had lost or was missing – I seem to rembember a lot of “be grateful for what you have” which may well have played a part in diverting any thoughts towards why I had been given up for adoption in the first place.
    My adoptive parents gave me all the legal documents pertaining to my adoption on my 21st birthday – I have my original birth certificate with my mothers name along with the social services background letter outlining the circumstances of my adoption. I guess I also chose and continue to respect her choice.
    I do hope you find that peace of mind you need – and that hole you have will no longer be so void.

  33. Chris gets caught all the time in moderation or by Akismet.
    We don’t know why.

    I think posting too many posts in too short a period of time can trip moderation or Akismet.
    I always think it’s ironic when I get caught on articles I authored.