Inching through Ethics

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“Inching through Ethics”

by Jessica Sherrill

Recently, a friend of mine attended a conference in Oregon. She texted me a picture of a Rotary sign she walked past and said that seeing it made her think of me. I feel like that’s a major compliment that a symbol of Rotary reminds her of me. Well, it turns out that ironically, I too was attending a conference and had found myself in a very current (and very silly) personal dilemma.

You see, the person sitting directly in front of me had a caterpillar crawling in her hair. I was desperately trying to pay attention to the very important discussion and presentation on a recent Supreme Court of the United States case on affirmative action in education… but my eyes were fixated on the caterpillar! All kinds of questions were swirling in my head like “Where did she pick up this caterpillar?” “Should I tell her?” “If I DO tell her, what do I say?” “How do I say it?” I imagined tapping on her shoulder to tell her … but then what if she flipped out? What if she didn’t hear me and asked me to repeat it and it becomes a distraction – except I was thoroughly distracted already.

When I received the text from my friend with the Rotary sign picture, I knew what I needed to do. Insert the 4 way test here – I know it by heart and use it daily – not quite like this but it still works. I knew deep down that I had to tell her. It wouldn’t be right not to tell her. I’d stress about it all day and night. And at this moment, the caterpillar sprouted two antennae and then quickly disappeared crawling out of sight towards her face. Why does this type of situation happen to me so much where I see something and have an intense need ethically to tell them so they aren’t embarrassed upon finding it later and wondering why nobody told them?  I imagined the caterpillar falling onto her laptop or crawling down her face and felt horrible for not having told her. (I also knew I could review the presentation slides later and this was a matter of immediate human decency).

For whatever reason, that caterpillar turned back around and started crawling down the back of her head. I knew it was time to suck it up and just tell her already. It’s the truth; it’s fair to her to know; it would build goodwill and better friendships to tell her as opposed to letting it startle her later (I think); and it seemed beneficial to all to let her know. I jotted down onto the notepad “You have a small caterpillar on your hair” and tapped and passed. (For the record, it wasn’t small but that seemed like still a truthful necessary to minimize her anxiety. Size is relative, right?)

She read my note and turned around. I pointed. She gently and calmly brushed her hands over her hair causing the caterpillar to fall onto her shoulder and she flicked it off. It would be an understatement to say that I didn’t breathe in a sigh of relief. It was over… except the caterpillar was now inching its way towards my foot. Goodbye, caterpillar, you have no business on the 3rd floor of this giant conference center.  I can’t tell you of a more silly personal dilemma I’ve encountered and used the 4 way test but it just goes to show that it can be used in most, if not all, scenarios. I texted my friend back to tell her all about the caterpillar and she texted back “Lol. And that’s why anything Rotary reminds me of you.”

1 Comments for : Inching through Ethics
    • Peggy Jean Kates
    • April 22, 2024

    Great story and example. Made me smile

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