Monday, September 30, 2013

Where’s Your Ethical Line?

We saw the movie Prisoners this past weekend and I squirmed in my seat more than once. The movie is a tense psychological thriller about the lengths a father will go to when his daughter and her friend go missing while walking one day. The tension is palpable throughout the movie and the premise is one of my worst nightmares as a parent.

When I was in high school, our band director and his family were on vacation in Colorado. Their teen son went on a walk to go to a nearby store and was never seen or heard from again. I remember all of the drama when he first went missing. It was a tragic story that caused many parents in our West Texas community to watch their children a little more closely.

As a parent, it would be an unimaginable nightmare to not know where your child is. Once or twice, my son failed to get home on time or answer his phone for an extended time period and for just a bit I felt panicked. It was an overreaction but real for me for a bit. I cannot imagine having a child go missing and not have any idea where they were. And it happens … too often for too many parents.

And that is the premise of the movie – parents dealing with a missing child.

But the other piece of the movie is the question of how far a parent will go to find that child. The movie asks, “What would you be willing to do – even beyond the law – to get answers in that search? Would you be willing to harm another human being? Would you step over that line if you thought it would bring your child home?” There are many morality issues in this film that push the viewer to the extreme. As I sat watching, I could not help wondering what I would do if my own child was missing.

Our band director spent thousands of dollars to set up a phone system that followed them everywhere they went – in the late 1970s. They went back and forth to Colorado for months searching for their missing son. They continued to search for years. Their lives were changed forever. And they never got any answers as to what happened to him.

In the movie, the dad clearly crosses a moral and ethical line (even the trailer gives that much away). And the viewer can’t help but wonder how far they would go in similar circumstances. I, too, began to wonder where my line is.

Truthfully, I have a pretty high doctrine of humanity. That means I am one of those people who expect the best out of people. I assume folks will do the right thing and that they will be their best selves. I got this doctrine from my parents – so I blame them.

Sometimes it means I get disappointed by the failures or behavior of others – and myself. But I would rather err on the side of trusting others and expecting their best than the alternative.

So as I sat there in the movie, I knew to the core of my being that I have a fairly high moral compass and would struggle to ever justify harming another human being – even to get information about my own missing child.

I was raised in a home with faithful parents. I was taught from an early age to “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) I would not hurt another human being to get information about my own child … at least that’s what I think.

I believe that there are limits – ethical limits – that bind us as humans one to the other and should keep us from harming others for our own purposes. I’m an idealist – I know that. There is evil done to others for personal, selfish, and ridiculous reasons daily. I love my son but my faith leads me to only do unto others what I would have them do to me.

I watch over my son the best ways I can. And I pray for his safety. I teach him to be aware of his circumstances as he navigates a major metropolitan city on his own. I protect him the best ways I can. But he is a young man who needs to venture out and be his own person. And we have taught him well. Beyond that I have no idea what else to do.

Would I harm others to protect him? Wow – that’s a hard one. But if someone attacked him and I was standing nearby I think my “Momma Bear” would probably come raging to the surface.

Would I harm others to get information if he went missing? Lord, I hope not. I really don’t think so.

Will I do everything to teach him to protect himself and be the best he can be? Absolutely.

My faith teaches me to pray for those who are missing and for their families who miss them each and every day. And to pray for their safe return.

The best I can do is to be the best parent I can be and sometimes that is really hard … but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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