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Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  26 March 2017 12:00 AM GMT

A doctor specialising in oncology and serving at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Stefan Einhorn has written popular books on science and religious philosophy. In ‘The Art of Being Kind’, he refutes the adage that good guys finish last. Rather, he asserts that a person who is kind is on the road to success. In this context, he speaks of ethical dilemmas by recounting a persol anecdote:
“My dad told me about something that happened during the Second World War. Being Jewish, they had been taken to a concentration camp. My grandfather was a tailor, and his family was probably saved by the fact that the Germans made him sew clothes for them.
One day my father was in the room that was used as his father’s workshop. Grandfather was trying a pair of trousers on a German officer, who was accompanied by a colleague. While Grandfather was on his knees in front of the officer, one of the Germans asked: ‘What do the Jews say — how will the war fare for the Germans?’
My father was horrified, because he knew that Grandfather would not lie to the Germans. Would Grandfather instead choose to say what everyone believed — that the Germans would lose the war? The consequence of this might be that they would kill him.
Sometimes we end up in situations where whatever we do can be both right and wrong. All possible options seem to have both advantages and disadvantages. The situation in which my grandfather found himself is an example of just such an ethical dilemma.
In William Styton’s book ‘Sophie’s Choice’, the main character is faced with an impossible dilemma. She has been transported to Auschwitz with her two children, and is standing in front of an SS doctor who forces her to choose — one of her children will be sent for immediateexecution, while the other will live, at least for a while. Under immense duress, Sophie makes her choice and one of the children is taken away. But Sophie can never reconcile herself to the decision she was forced to make, and this leads eventually to her demise.
‘Impossible’ ethical dilemmas are turally rarely as dramatic as this example, but they are considerably more common than we might be tempted to believe. In my work as a ward physician, it was not uncommon at the end of the afternoon for me to have several patients left to see, all of whom needed to be spoken to in peace and quiet. Who should I prioritise before I had to leave?
Should we stay at home and help our children with their homework, or go and visit a good friend who is depressed? Should we give money to Save the Children, or buy a nice present for our partner’s birthday? Should we help an old lady off the bus, or have time to make our connection in order to get to an important meeting? It may also be a question of when to break with norms and rules. Should we lie to protect a friend? Should we break a promise because we think it would benefit the person to whom we made the promise?
These situations sometimes lead to a feeling of negative stress. We feel bad because we can see no good solution, however hard we try. Too much negative stress can in turn lead to both mental and physical problems.
What should we do to be good in a situation where all possible options are less than good? How can we do right in situations where all the options are more or less bad? The answer is that we must evaluate each situation on its own merits and then do our best.
There is a further response — sometimes there is a hidden door we can open. Let us return to my grandfather and see how he solved the dilemma in which he found himself.
Grandfather sat silent for a long time. Eventually the second officer said sharply: ‘Didn’t you hear the question?’ The Grandfather said in a low voice: ‘Not only the Jews, but all the world knows that the Germany of Goethe and Schiller can never be eradicated’.
The Germans looked at each other, bemused, and then started to talk about something else. By referring to the treasures of German culture, Grandfather had escaped from the situation without either lying or being shot. Wise — extremely wise.”
—the harbinger

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