Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Moral Dilemma

     The other day I faced a moral dilemma. Actually, it wasn't me, it was a friend of mine. And he had no qualms about it. But I did.

     The background:  Four of us were playing golf, and two of my friends started talking about how they had played golf together the previous weekend, and had been hooked up with two other strangers. One of the guys turned out to be kind of a boor. There was a foursome of Asians in front of them, who were holding them up, making them wait from time to time (which is not unusual on a golf course) and the guy started complaining. At first he just grumbled to himself. Then he complained to my friends. And then he started in with the derogatory racial terms. Not loud enough so the Asians could hear him. But plenty loud enough for my friends to hear.

     "The guy was a real jerk," one of my friends said. "I was glad when that was over."

     But my friend Peter, who hadn't been there, challenged them. "So, you didn't do anything about it?"

     "Not really. He was just making us very uncomfortable."

     Peter shook his head. "If I'd been there, I'd have told this guy he was way off base. I wouldn't have played with him anymore."

     My other two friends gave a knowing laugh. "Maybe. But we didn't exactly want to get into a fight about it."

     "Oh, you're being ridiculous," Peter said. "I wouldn't have gotten belligerent with him. But I would have let him play ahead. Or just walked off. A guy like that has to get the message -- maybe it's okay to go up and politely ask people to hurry up, or ask to play through, but it's unacceptable to start in with the racial slurs, calling people derogatory names."

     I completely agreed with Peter, although if I'd actually been in my friends' situation, I don't know if I would have had the moxie to actually confront the guy, say to his face that he was being inappropriate, and tell him to get lost.

     But anyway, we played a couple more holes. Then Peter turned to me, with a sly smile on his face, and told me what he had done a few days before. He'd been driving home on a major state road, a few miles from his house, when he saw a sign. It was obviously homemade, painted on a piece of plywood. It said: "No Mosque." It had a red circle around the words, with a line drawn through it.

     Peter knew there was a proposal in his town to build a mosque. He'd seen it mentioned in the newspaper, but hadn't paid much attention. He really didn't know any of the details about the proposal.

     But, he told me, the sign really offended him. So he pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. He got out of his car, grabbed the sign and wrestled it out of the ground. Then he threw it into the trunk of his car.

     "So where is it now?" I asked.

     "It's in my basement," he laughed. "I just couldn't stand seeing that sign there. I had to take it down."

     "So," I said, "I guess you don't believe in freedom of speech."

     He looked at me. I was kind of kidding him, teasing him a little. "You know, I actually considered that," he replied seriously. "But I just thought it was too nasty. I couldn't let it stand."

     When he got home, he told me, his wife applauded his action. "Good for you," she'd said. And when he brought up his one qualm, the freedom-of-speech issue, his wife retorted, "The hell with their freedom of speech."

     She obviously considered it hate speech. But I wondered if the sign really qualified. Maybe there was a zoning issue. Maybe there were environmental issues about building the mosque, involving wetlands or traffic.

    Anyway, I found the whole issue interesting. In my own mind, I couldn't decide if Peter had done the right thing or not. If the sign really was hate speech, then he was probably right. But if other issues were involved, then maybe he was wrong -- not to mention the fact that he was stealing someone else's property.

     Later that night at dinner, I brought up the issue with B. "Yeah, sure, a zoning issue," she scoffed. "It was obviously an anti-Muslim message. I'm glad Peter took it down."

     "Yeah, you're probably right," I said. But as you can see, the question is still going around in my mind. And I wonder, whatever happened to the notion that you can strongly disagree with what someone is saying, but still defend their right to say it?

     I don't know. But now you know as much about it as I do. What do you think?


Retired Syd said...

Have you ever seen a sign with a red circle and a line through it that said "No Church," to oppose the building of a church, you know, maybe because of zoning or environmental issues?

Yeah. I haven't either.

Janette said...

I have- when a mega church was being built in the early '80s.
I would have taken down the sign as well. The sign in our community set us apart for years.

Stephen Hayes said...

I would not have a problem if a mosque was built in my neighborhood, another one, but I'd leave the sign alone. It is a free speech issue, and if the sign is on private property or breaks city ordinances then the city will take it down. I disagree with most of the signs I see.

#1Nana said...

i agree with Stephen. In this country even speech that makes us uncomfortable is protected. That's why that awful church gets to protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers.

Olga said...

I find it quite frightening that we have become so self-righteous, no matter the end of the political spectrum, that we (as a society) are so willing to toss basic freedoms. There are better ways to protest hate and intolerance...ways that are not hateful and intolerant themselves.

Olga said...

OMG. Thank-you for taking off that word verification. Now, if I could get into everyone's computer and destroy that gadget...whoops...that would be wrong.

Tom Sightings said...

I agree with Stephen on one point: I disagree with most of the signs I see!

Olga, unfortunately I'm getting a lot of spam now that word verification if off -- about 4 or 5 a day. They don't show up here -- the blogger spam-catcher must stop them -- but they do show up in my regular email, and I'm worried that something will come thru that will bollix up my computer.

I dunno. I'll leave it off for a while longer; but thinking of putting it back.

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

I understand your reluctance to speak up. These days, some folks would punch you in the face. However, MLK says the reason Jim Crow lasted so long in the South (and elsewhere, like Boston??) is because folks who thought it was atrocious failed to speak up. I fear I was one of them.

Its hard to say the right thing sometimes. As for free speech, the alternative is worse. Unfortunately, this means the boors get to have their say too. I have spoken my mind on a couple of occasions, but it mostly had to do with yelling at someone who let her dog run loose.

As for Muslims, those who fear them need to give up. Thomas Jefferson had a Koran and these books and the people who read them have been around since 700 A.D. or thereabouts. Dianne

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

PS, don't put the blocks back please, it makes life difficult for those who are sight impaired. Dianne

rosaria williams said...

That you ask the question, that you struggle to find an answer, all good things. Proud to know such a person!

Dick Klade said...

Tom, you give us things to ponder, for sure.

It's easier said that done, I know, but Peter was right about the golf course racism. It's about time we all had the guts to stand up about that sort of stuff.

I think Peter was dead wrong about his sign actions. Free speech is THE most important guarantee in our nation. If he wanted to challenge what the sign implied there are many ways to do that without performing an illegal act of violence against a neighbor's property,

Freedom of speech should include the right to speak up against a building or a religion that we do not believe in.

I would welcome a mosque in my neighborhood. I would defend to the death the right for anyone to oppose one.

Snowbrush said...

If the sign was on the highway right of way, I figure it was fair game to take down because the person didn't have the right to put it up, but if it was on private property, I believe that the owner's right to free speech should have applied. As for not speaking up when someone is making racial comments, that implies either approval or cowardice. I will admit here that I have my own prejudices--against the woman I saw today in a birka, for example, but it's one thing to think something, and quite another to impose one's prejudice on others. At the very least, those men who remained quiet created an atmosphere that made prejudice acceptable.

Knatolee said...

We have stronger hate laws here than you do, and "freedom of speech" isn't valued above all else the way it seems to be in the US. I'm fine with that! :) I'm with Peter all the way.

joared said...

I agree that it wasn't Peter's place to remove the sign, as objectionable as it seems that sign was, especially considering what little we know. That's relatively easy for me to say now, as I have time to think about this and what others have written.

That said, in the spontaneous moment of first seeing the sign, my probable emotional reaction might well have been to remove it, or at least think about doing so, or doing something, but I don't know what I actually would have done. Whatever, I know I would have been left to wonder later whether or not I should have acted however I did or didn't -- as you're pondering.

As for the racist name-calling, I think someone should have calmly told the individual that they, as an individual, or your group which would have allowed the others to speak up, didn't appreciate that type of talk. Sure would have sent a powerful message to that guy -- who would either have uncomfortably, but maybe graciously, learned a significant lesson, or he might have been so embarrassed (as he should have been) he walked off the green.

Don't we always think after the fact of what we wish we'd thought to say when sudden unexpected events like that happen? I've missed some opportunities.

Here's one I didn't miss --
After our current President's first nomination I received a phone call from an individual I've known and loved since he was born (not biologically related.) In the course of our conversation he suddenly resorted to racist name calling with regard to the candidate. I quickly let this 50+ yr old man quite nicely know I found that speech unacceptable. We continued to talk pleasantly for a few more minutes, but I've not received a holiday greeting card, or phone call in the years since. Frankly, this was just one more bragging-type behavior that had increasingly over the years become a source of disappointment to me in his character development that seemed to have evolved from bad to worse in some areas. But for the sake of his deceased immediate family -- parents and two brothers, all his aunts and uncles -- I maintained an affectionate relationship with him. Any further contact with me now will be up to him, but at least he knows my tolerance limits.

Woman Seeking Center said...

Certainly two real life examples worthy of pondering (and to ponder is good)!

I've been in a situation simular to the one you describe at the golf course. What's worked best for me was to point out that the irritation (in this point the delay caused by the golfers ahead) is connected to personality, not race. There are thoughtful and rude individuals within every race/background/economic group that draws breath. My experience with using that approach was it seemed to state clearly enough that I wanted to put a lid on the 'race' component of the speakers complaint. Yet it allowed the speakers 'complaint' validity and allowed further (polite) discussion. YMMV lol

As for the sign/removal? Tricky on numberous levels. I applaud the spirit. But as others have mentioned:

*Without knowing the full background there is a chance there were additional issues. Maybe not, but maybe so.

*If it was private property, ie lawn or yard it would twist my knicker if someone pulled a sign off my home turf! What if they didn't like my US flag or my not-fond-o-fracking sign? Or didn't approve of my twirling flamingo (yes, I know but I love silly lawn toys - don't hate me lol)

*How would any of us posting here feel if someone pulled down a MIA placard or 'vote for _____' sign or a DON'T vote for ________'sign. You know, something each of us personally felt strongly about?

I stress I am NON-supportive of intolerance. Yet I'm massively supportive of my (and your) right to have and voice our individual opinion - and aren't they linked?

As a woman I'm massively concerned (deeply actually) about a handful of individuals trying to dictate what I can or can not do with my own physical being.

As a person I want to be able to speak my mind (politely). That may include a sign or banner on my own land. That sign or banner may offer a point of view on a hot topic - and differ from the opinion of someone driving by my yard. I'd like to be able to put that point of view sign (as long as it's not rude) there. ?And I'd certainly prefer everyone didn't touch it. Instead, start a conversation, think about it. Go home and create your own sign for your yard making another point of view visible. More pondering! Good!

Maybe the best approach to negative signs in the community would be to put a "I support/OK with me!" sign of ones own up. In these parts there are a bevy of PRO and NO fracking.

Especially with sensitive issues, it may be the strongest form of 'righting a (seeming) wrong'. At least it would balance the point of view within the community.

Whew - sorry to be so long winded. I'm on a roll regarding personal rights today, lol

Good post - I respect and enjoy your writing, and the many times you've given me something to 'ponder'....

Snowbrush said...

"*How would any of us posting here feel if someone pulled down a MIA placard or 'vote for _____' sign or a DON'T vote for ________'sign. You know, something each of us personally felt strongly about?"

Public property is not a place to place signs supporting private views, so I would be in favor of taking any or all of them down.

Woman Seeking Center said...

Greetings Snowbrush! I agree with you fully, public property is off limits
totally for personal points of view.

In the snippet of mine you you noted I was refering only to personal property (tho I didn't define that very clearly).....

Woman Seeking Center said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara Torris said...

The older I get the harder it is for me to decide in this type of situation. I have learned that, unless I know the whole story, I cannot judge. Maybe the sign was more about location of the mosque than it was about faith!

However, after this week's international incident, it seems to me that we would kbe better served if those that post hateful material anywhere are called to task.

It is just a thought.

Thank you for the thoughtful post



Snowbrush said...

"it seems to me that we would kbe better served if those that post hateful material anywhere are called to task"

Well, that would be me because I sure do criticize religion, and this includes making comments that would get me killed in some countries. So, Barbara, to bring things home, are you in favor of fines only or would you also recommend imprisonment?