For years, my wife and I have belonged to a country club that has an “unspoken” policy against letting Blacks, Jews, and other minorities become members. Although we would never outwardly endorse these policies, we’ve justified our membership for professional networking reasons, and because many of our friends are members. Also the restaurant serves an unbelievable lobster roll. But lately my wife and I are having a crisis of conscience. The overfishing of lobsters by commercial fishing companies, combined with the effects of oceanic warming, pose a real and present danger to global lobster populations. Should we continue to remain members knowing that the club insists on ignoring this very serious issue?
— R.S., Charleston
On my walk to the subway, I often pass a homeless man who stands on the corner begging for change. If I’m carrying coins or small bills, I am generally happy to give something to him. I have never seen him drink alcohol, and he doesn’t appear to be a drug user. Therefore, I’ve assumed that he has the capacity to be judicious with how he spends his donations. Then, yesterday, I saw him in line at the Whole Foods around the corner, buying a box of gluten-free muffins. Not the Whole Foods 365 brand of gluten-free muffins, but the fancy ones that cost four dollars more and frankly aren’t as good. Further, I have no reason to believe that he is in fact even gluten-intolerant. Plenty of times, I have seen him enjoying someone’s half-eaten Bahn Mi or Shake Shack burger and he seems to do just fine. As someone who thinks she possibly might have Celiac disease, is it within my ethical bounds to confront the homeless man about the legitimacy of his gluten-free lifestyle? Or should I just stop giving him money until he owns up to the lie?
— T. S., Brooklyn
I am a professor of Women’s Studies at a prominent East Coast liberal arts college. Recently, a friend of mine from high school whom I haven’t heard from in years — I’ll call her Sheila — contacted me out of the blue. After a few minutes of chitchat, she said that she was calling to ask me to write a recommendation for her daughter, who was in the process of applying to schools, including the one at which I teach. I have never met her daughter, and therefore cannot speak to her character or academic strengths. Writing a false recommendation would go against school policy and threaten my tenure.
To complicate matters, when we were in high school, I was jealous that Sheila’s prom date Jason asked her to the dance instead of me. On the day of the prom, I sneaked into Sheila’s purse and poked ten holes in her new diaphragm with a sewing needle. Sheila lost her virginity that night, and became pregnant with the very child she was now calling about. Jason stuck around for a while but then got into drugs and went to prison. Sheila moved in with her mother, who helped raise the child while Sheila worked at the local fabric store. Then her mother died of cancer, leaving Sheila to raise the child alone, cobbling together what she could to give her daughter a shot at a decent life. Sheila never found out the truth about what I did. Because of me, she was robbed of the future she deserved, while here I sit, perched high up in my office, overlooking the commons as the leaves turn golden in the fading light of fall. I don’t really have a question for you. I’m just reminiscing. Sorry.
— L.B., Upstate New York
A few months ago, I overheard a co-worker, who is also a good friend, talking on the phone on the other side of our shared cubicle. I didn’t hear the entire conversation, but I quickly understood that he was plotting to have his wife killed. At one point, I heard him say, “I will pay you fifty-thousand dollars. Just make her go away.” Naturally, I was shocked and abhorred.
My cousin knows a guy who might or might not know a guy who would gladly kill my friend’s wife for much less than $50,000. Maybe even half that. Assuming the thoroughness and quality of the deed would not be sacrificed, am I obligated to inform my friend that he is egregiously overpaying? In doing so, I would have to admit to eavesdropping, thereby betraying his right to privacy and risking our friendship. On the other hand, by not saying anything, I am essentially an accomplice in my friend’s wasting $25,000. I haven’t slept in days.
— M.J., San Francisco
Last week, I was driving home from work. It was late, it had been raining, and the road was dark and wet. Out of nowhere, a dog darted right in front of me. I had no time to swerve, and I heard the sickening sound that one associates with running over an animal. I got out and approached the poor thing. He looked at me with his big, pleading brown doggy eyes and let out a plaintive whine. It was one of those airy, high-pitched, heart-breaking whines dogs make when they are in extreme pain. He needed a vet immediately. Unfortunately, I have a severe dog allergy. If I so much as get one tiny hair on me, my face becomes red, swollen and grotesque, like Gary Busey. Gary Busey with a severe dog allergy who just rubbed his face all over a Siberian Husky. Then, I get these nasty, itchy, oozing pustules all up and down my body. It’s disgusting. Please believe me, this wasn’t a Cockadoodle or another one of those gay hypo-allergenic dogs laying there. This thing was a real big shedding bastard. I’d never get that hair out of my car, do you understand? Never! So, I drove away, leaving the dog’s life in God’s hands. My question is, it is unethical for me to analogize the way my face looks during an allergic reaction to an actor who is still living, and who might possibly be reading this?
— C. C. Denver
Recently, my dog was hit by a car. By some miracle, he survived. But the driver left the scene, sticking me with an exorbitant vet bill for which I had no means of paying. In desperate need of money, I turned to contract killing. My first client offered me $50,000 to murder his wife. I quickly accepted, even though I was prepared to take less. I wasn’t surprised when the man called the next day to cancel the contract. Indeed, he had found a cheaper assassin who had more experience. He then broke down in tears. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that although he was happy to be saving almost $25,000 to have his wife killed, he had lost a dear friend in the process, a friend who had betrayed his privacy and whom he would never forgive. It was a cost he could never recoup. I feel awful about the role I might have played in this man’s suffering. Was it my moral duty to charge a competitive price to begin with? Should I have at least offered to let him pay in installments? I’d still have been able to afford my dog’s rear-leg amputations and buy him his wheelchair. My client would still have his best friend. The wife would still be dead. And everyone, everywhere, would be happy.
— Name Withheld