Right vs. right calls for tough choices

Two newspapers in Seattle were asked by the FBI to publish a photograph of two men “so that the public might help in identifying them.”

“These men have been seen aboard Washington State Ferries … and have exhibited unusual behavior, which was reported by passengers,” conceding that the behavior might have been harmless, the FBI wanted to “resolve these reports.”

Neither newspaper printed the photograph immediately. But a day later, after having given the matter some thought, one newspaper did publish the photo ? and the other newspaper did not.

Both gave reasons for their different responses to the FBI’s request.

But it was a reader who suggested that both should read a certain book.

The book is titled “How Good People Make Tough Choices” and the author, Rushworth M. Kidder, is the founder of an organization called The Institute for Global Ethics.

Turns out that, on the web, you can read the first chapter of Kidder’s book. And discover that what he’s talking about are problems that are really tough choices because because they are “right vs. right.”

It was right not to damage the reputations of two men who may be innocent. It was right to protect the community from a possible threat.

Kidder’s book says we must “choose which side is the nearest right for the circumstances.”

He goes on to say that we must balance the rights of truth vs. the rights of loyalty;the rights of the individual vs. the rights of the community; what is right for the short-term vs. what is right for the long term; and the right of justice vs. the right of mercy.

In his book Kidder lists a number of rights vs. rights. For example, the rights of a woman vs. the rights of her baby … you, know, pro-choice rights vs. pro-life rights.

Suddenly, it seemed that Kidder’s idea of choosing the nearest or most important right is what our society is trying to do. But we should all recognize that both sides of almost every disagreement have rights.

Ours isn’t the only “right” side. “Bipartisan” isn’t a dangerous course.

Think about truth vs. loyalty. Doesn’t that bring the name Alberto Gonzales to mind?
Short-term vs. long-term? Bring the troops home … or keep them there?
Individual vs. community? A senator in trouble … and his political party?
Justice vs. mercy? Scooter Libby’s sentence commuted by President Bush?

But that’s not all.

Kidder’s Institute for Global Ethics has a division called “Center for Moral Courage.” And Kidder has a book on the subject, “Moral Courage” with a chapter you can read on the web.

“Simply put,” he writes, “moral courage is the courage to be moral.”
Going back to the Seattle story. It mentions Fred Friendly, producer of Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now,” and says that he always opened his seminars on ethical by saying their purpose was “to make the agony of decision-making so intense that you escape only by thinking.”

Chelle Delaney is associate publisher of the Quay County Sun. She can be reached by calling 461-1952 or by emailing: chelle_delaney@link.freedom.com