The Moral Conundrum of Dropped Sunglasses

Posted: August 1, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

By Paul Gaszak,  English Faculty

SunglassesTuesday after work, I voluntarily cast myself into the cluttered stream of shoppers and tourists navigating State Street and the Mag Mile in Chicago. My primary objectives were to shop for sunglasses (which I didn’t buy), a new Miami Dolphins hat (which I didn’t find), and a new white dress shirt (I bought a $12 t-shirt instead). While wandering, a man walking in front of me dropped his sunglasses. Simple enough. I scooped them up, caught his attention, gave them back, he said thanks, and on we went with our separate lives.

The following night, in my Humanities 310 course (Comparative Contemporary Literature), the evening’s topics were good & evil, right & wrong. All of the literature for the evening, and all of our discussions, led back to those topics. We argued our perspectives and moral stances on a variety of situations:

This is a question from author Chuck Klosterman's fun boxed set of hypothetical scenarios called "Hypertheticals."

This is a question from author Chuck Klosterman’s fun boxed set of hypothetical scenarios called “Hypertheticals.”

1. Would we use a cursed magic power to save a friend from a bear attack? (see picture)

2. Is it acceptable to knock over an old lady and steal her clothes if she’s pulling hair out of dead people and you need her belongings so you can survive? (Thanks, “Rashomon”!)

3. Does swearing make you a bad person? (Thankfully for me, the class said no.)

Along the way, we talked about how – generally – people will do small things for other people, like we’ll hold a door for someone or we’ll return someone’s sunglasses. Our conclusion was that we do these things because they are nice and they’re a “good” or “right” thing to do.

Therefore, I did a good thing by picking up that man’s sunglasses on Michigan Ave. Wonderful!

Then, I proposed a question to the class: What if I did not pick up the sunglasses? What if I ignored them and kept walking? Does that then make me a BAD person? If picking up the glasses was good/right, then the opposite must be bad/wrong, correct?

There were times throughout the night when the group’s answers to right/wrong were without hesitation, but not at this moment. After a pause, several people chimed in to say that passing up the glasses would not make me a bad person.

One student who said this would not make me a bad person admitted to having literally walked past sunglasses before.

Then, several students started to contest the context of the situation, during which we learned it may be okay to pass the sunglasses if you’re in a hurry, and it may be okay to pass them if the owner of the glasses is already 10 blocks away.

Yes, specifically 10 blocks.

That student (whaddup, Stan) argued that he wasn’t going to run after someone for 10 blocks just to return sunglasses.

I asked what object would have to be dropped to warrant chasing the owner down 10 blocks?

Stan said, “His wallet.”

I asked, “What if you opened his wallet and all that was inside was his sunglasses?”

I didn’t anticipate that my question about sunglasses would yield arguably the most interesting responses of the night. During a night meant to challenge us on our perceptions and definitions of good and evil, I thought there would be bigger, weightier topics with more intriguing responses. But then there were sunglasses, which seemed to touch on an interesting moral gray area that forced us to consider how much frivolousness impacts our perceptions of right and wrong. They’re “just” sunglasses. We can’t be deemed BAD over something as unimportant as sunglasses, can we?

Ultimately, the sunglasses led us to conclude that anything that happens outside of arms’ reach does not require our immediate goodness.

We were joking. Or I hope we were, because if we weren’t, that would be as obviously wrong as walking past someone’s dropped sunglasses.

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Comments
  1. Jane Ungari says:

    Sounds like a fun class. Good work. jane

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