Tag Archives: Carolyn Hax

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/9/2018: Searching For Something Positive In The Ethics News, Failing

Good morning.

1. Is it unethical to never be satisfied, or just human? Or just American? The Boston Red Sox are winning too much, and I don’t recognize my team.  Over the weekend, literally for the first time in my life, I found myself feeling sorry for an opposing team and its fans. The poor Kansas City Royals (who are, I know, in the process of tanking) looked hopeless as the Red Sox swept a three game series. KC, not long ago a World Series champion, looks like it will lose 105 games or more. My team has always been the underdog. I don’t want to root for crypto-Yankees.

2. Yeah, I wish the President would just announce his SCOTUS pick and not make it into a circus.

3. Another Ethics Alarms Lost Post…A Carolyn Hax advice column from March missed  getting the post I intended at the time, and I just stumbled across the old file. A woman who had planned a huge wedding was jilted by her fiance shortly before the big date, as he ran off with an old flame. She asked Carolyn if she was wrong to be angry at invited friends and relatives who wanted her to reimburse them for non-refundable airline tickets, and to never want to have any contact with them again. Hax said that such people don’t deserve anything better, and ought to be written off in perpetuity.

That was an easy call for the relationship columnist, but I found  myself reflecting on other matters, like whether I have any friends and relatives who could be expected to behave that atrociously, venally and compassionlessly (relatives yes, friends, no, I think). Another question: what’s the matter with people, and how do they get this way? Someone you care about is slammed with a life catastrophe, and your first reaction is to demand that she pay for your inconvenience?

4. Yes, “enemy of the people” is accurate…From Glenn Greenwald (via Althouse): Continue reading

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Family, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Quotes, U.S. Society

Ethical Quote Of The Week: Relationship Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax

befriend-v-t-to-make-an-ingrate-quote-1

“[I]t’s time you made the acquaintance of an institution we all must embrace at some point in life: the thankless task. That’s how you file away changing a baby’s diaper, paying your taxes, visiting a relative turned cranky from infirmities, throwing in extra toward the tip because everyone else left the table. You do these because they’re the right thing to do, even though babies don’t sit up and say thanks for the squeaky-clean butt.”

—–Syndicated advice columnist and natural-born ethics whiz Carolyn Hax, answering a young woman’s question regarding the proper response to someone who should have thanked her for a kindness, but did not.

The letter writer was a high school athlete who, like most high school students today, had never been introduced to the satirical wisdom of philosopher/humorist Ambrose Bierce in his indispensable “The Devil’s Dictionary.”  The young woman had organized a senior night tribute to a graduating teammate, who then expressed no gratitude after the event.

“I am not sure whether or when I should broach the subject. Am I being needy and selfish, or do I have a legitimate case for feeling disowned?” she queried Hax.

As she is about 98% of the time, the columnist was spot on in her response. Doing good things and right things do not assume some kind of quid pro quo, cosmic or otherwise, in this  world or a subsequent one. Learning to feel good about doing the right thing whether you are praised, rewarded, thanked, or derive any tangible benefits yourself is one of the hardest lesson on the way to ethical living, and one of the most important. No, you shouldn’t assume that you will be treated unfairly, as Bierce suggests. As he meant to warn you, however, you shouldn’t be surprised, either.

Do not expect karma, or justice, or thanks—don’t even hold out for credit. Just figure out the right thing to do–how you would want to be treated, how you wish everyone would act, the conduct that will make society better for everyone by solving problems or making them bearable—and do it. Those who don’t understand that it’s also right to reciprocate by exhibiting recognition and gratitude  haven’t figured things out yet, and their ethics alarms are jammed.

Be glad yours are in good repair.

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Filed under Character, Etiquette and manners

Carolyn Hax Sides With Bobby Darin, And Dazzles With Her Ethics Advice Again

Syndicated relationship advice columnist Carolyn Hax is as trustworthy an ethicist as I know. She doesn’t call herself an ethicist, and probably doesn’t think of herself as one, but she is far better qualified in the field than many with advanced degrees and tenured teaching positions, not to mention the corporate compliance hacks who write Ethics Codes for the likes of Enron. Carolyn Hax is an ethicist and a superb one because she has an innate, instinctive, nuanced and perceptive understanding of right and wrong, as well as remarkable skill at ethical analysis.

She proves this routinely in her weekly columns, but occasionally special attention should be paid. That was the case last week, when she was asked her blessing by an annoyed fiance on a decision to exit the relationship because her betrothed had decided to reject an offer to enter the world of high finance in favor of pursuing a career as a carpenter, concluding:

I’m seriously considering walking away because I think he is being really selfish given the long-term prospects. I am a professional and have supported us through his two-year master’s program. I am at my end here — what do you think?

In as nice a manner as possible, Hax nails what is wrong with this, saying in part: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Romance and Relationships

Ethics Hero: Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax

But it worked for Scarlet!

But it worked for Scarlett!

I’ve made Hax, the Washington Post’s relationship advice columnist, an Ethics Hero before. This time it’s for something more than her usual spot-on instincts about right and wrong, and more about her method of expressing them. You know I am not fond of weasel words, equivocation and gentle rhetoric when emphatic prose is called for, and Hax, though she is more prudent than I, laps her competition when it comes to firing off both barrels when it is called for.

In this response, she was responding to a man whose brother stopped speaking to him after he gently suggested to him that his niece had a huge honker for her face and it might be time to visit the local plastic surgeon. The advice-seeker lives  “in a community where a lot of teenage girls have cosmetic surgery at 16,” he explained, and both his wife and daughter had their noses made button-like. “Was I over the line in making this suggestion in a private setting?” he asked Hax.

Her unrestrained, wise and glorious response: Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Family, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Professions

Carolyn Hax And The Unanswerable Ethics Dilemma

secrets

My favorite advice columnist, innate ethicist Carolyn Hax, courageously and wisely addressed an ethics problem that is the equivalent of squaring the circle or finding the end of pi. The question posed by a commenter:

My mother says she will not tell me who my father is and will take the secret to the grave with her. Is there ever any good reason for not telling someone who their father is?

This is not merely a difficult question but also a portal question leading us to a myriad of specific ethics dilemmas. Hax offers a few, some of which aren’t very good:

  • If she doesn’t know for sure herself.

Well, of course: also if she can’t communicate due to her mouth being sewn shut, her arms amputated, she never learned Morse Code and it lousy at charades.]

  • If he committed crimes so heinous that she fears they would change the way you see yourself.
  • If he was and is still married to her sister, cousin, best friend.

Or if the mother is the father…?

  • If revealing his name would reveal something embarrassing about her or her past choices or the circumstances of your birth.

Nope. Embarrassment about the truth is not a valid reason for withholding it from someone who has a legitimate and justified reason to know it.

  • If she promised him she would take the secret of his identity to her grave.

Too bad: that’s never a good reason. A commitment to the dead does not, can not and must not have priority over obligations to the living. That’s an unethical promise; the daughter cannot be ethically made to suffer for it.

If he’s a sperm donor and she thinks there’s something wrong with admitting that.

  • The mother thinking it’s a good reason isn’t the same as it being a good reason. Come on, Carolyn.

My favorite is if the father is Satan, and the mother wants her daughter to have as normal and happy a life as possible until the inevitable day when Dad calls on her to assume her destiny as the DARK EMPRESS OF THE DAMNED! Continue reading

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Filed under U.S. Society

Advice Malpractice: Good Advice Columnist, Bad Advice Columnist

"Go jump in a lake!"

“Go jump in a lake!”

I cannot imagine being so bereft of wisdom, friends and mentors that I would ever be moved to ask a stranger to advise me regarding an important decision based solely on a letter describing my problem. Nevertheless, a lot of poor souls apparently do, and because they do, many of them probably act on the advice they get from Beth, Abby, The Ethicist and the rest. This means that anyone with the ego and chutzpah to hold themselves out as qualified to give such advice is ethically obligated to be able to do a competent job at it, and at very least to “do no harm.” Yes, unlike the law, advice columnist is one of the professions where the traditional ethical mission of medicine is not just appropriate, but essential.

Most advice columnists in the media are not competent, and some are dangerously reckless. The worst thing an advice columnist can do is to use the trusting and needy stranger as a potential recruit to steer toward the columnist’s ideologically-driven goals. The question being asked by desperate advice seekers, after all, is not “What would you do?” but rather “What should I do?” If the columnist answers the question presuming that the advice-seeker does or should see the world as the advice columnist does, then doing harm is the likely result.

Carolyn Hax ( Washington Post) is a wonderful advice columnist, and Emily Yoffe (“Dear Prudence”) is the other kind. Two recent responses by them illustrate the distinction between competent, skilled and ethical advice, and advice column malpractice. Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Life, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Love, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

Advice Column Ethics: The Case Of The Anxious Godmother

"look, I'll take your 8 kids if anything happens to you, but I really think you should stop juggling chainsaws..."

“Look, I’ll take your 8 kids if anything happens to you, but I really think you should stop juggling chainsaws…”

The best of all advice columnists, Carolyn Hax, found herself confronted with a tough question this weekend, and uncharacteristically flailed at an answer.

I’m going to try to help her out.

The question came from husband who was trying to decide how to deal with the anxiety of his wife, godmother to two teenagers being raised alone by her brother. The brother, it seems, has decided to take up race car driving as a new hobby, and sister, the wife of Hax’s correspondent, is terrified that this risky pursuit might eventually place the teens in her care. “The kids have been raised in a way that neither of us agrees with, and if they were to come under our care, it would be very difficult for everyone involved,” he writes. What should he do?

Maybe Hax’s reply helps the potential adoptive parent, but I sure found it stuttering, overly equivocal and confusing. It’s not surprising: the issues are difficult, full of ethical conflicts.

Here is my analysis:

1. If one agrees to be the designated guardian of a child or children, one is ethically obligated to be ready to accept the duties of the job. “I’ll take care of your kids happily as long as it’s not your fault that you can’t” just isn’t good enough. Too many people, perhaps most, accept this crucial responsibility as an honor rather than as a very serious commitment, and first and foremost, it is a commitment to the children. If a godmother (or, in a non-religious setting, a guardian) is terrified of the reality of fulfilling the duties of the job, she should give them up, so they can be accepted by someone who is not so reluctant. It shouldn’t matter if the parent is an amateur snake handler or a couch potato.

2. It is reckless, selfish and irresponsible for the sole parent of children to not take this fact into consideration regarding his lifestyle and other choices. Two children depend on him: he is duty bound to do what he can to stay alive, healthy, and capable of supporting them. Taking on unquestionably risky hobby like race car driving, or storm chasing, or being a volunteer human subject for the ebola vaccine, is irrational and wrong. It is right for the potential successor guadians to make this point to him, for the children, for a family intervention, for his friends, for anyone. And they should. He is not free to act as if he has complete autonomy, not with two children who depend on him.

3. If his thinking is “it’s OK to risk my life, because I have two foster parents on the hook,” that is similarly unethical, and he needs to be told that, too. But he should be told it by  guardians/godparents who are still committed to being loving parents should the worst occur, not by a couple that accepted the responsibility assuming they would never actually have to deliver.

The bottom line:

  • The inquirer and his wife should withdraw as guardians.
  • The father should grow up.
  • The next guardian couple should be informed of the father’s irresponsible proclivities, and make his promise to take reasonable efforts to remains capable of raising the children as a condition of their accepting the role.

And, of course, if the worst happens and the father ends up a victim of Dead Man’s Curve without having found a suitable guardian, the sister and her husband may be obligated to raise the orphaned teens anyway.

Because that’s what families are for.

Is that what Carolyn says? I’m not sure. If it is, it wasn’t clear enough.

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Filed under Childhood and children, Family, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Love