EDHD: Ethics Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder

By DuncanRhys C. Liancourt

––If you were fired from your job, not because of the slow economy or for poor performance, but because of a co-worker’s personal feelings you’d have justice, ethics, and the law on your side, right? American citizens have the right to earn a living and to fairness in employment. Same deal if your property were seized or if you were arrested. There are rules about how these things can be done, and if they are done incorrectly you have redress to the laws of our country.

But what if someone decided that there were special circumstances and that your unethical and illegal firing must be allowed to spare that co-worker’s feelings? Would you understand and give up your rights, and your livelihood, if you were told that the co-worker is especially sensitive because of a traumatic experience he or she suffered on the job? You were not personally present at the time or place of this co-worker’s negative experience, but you remind him or her of the person or people responsible––you seem the same type. You’d understand, right? You would step aside, give up your rights and your job, perhaps your family’s quality of life to spare this fellow employee’s wounded feelings?

Of course you wouldn’t. We do want social and legal structures that take into account the human side of issues, but we don’t want hurt feelings, no matter how painful, to trump our ethics and set aside our laws. Some Americans and American organizations are demanding, however, that American Muslims step aside and allow the imagined personal feelings of other’s to strip them of some of their fundamental rights as citizens to an Islamic center and Mosque close to ground zero in Manhattan. “Critics,” writes Matt Bai in I’m American. And You? in August 8th’s New York Times “including the Anti-Defamation League, said it was simply too insensitive to victims’ families, regardless of one’s commitment to freedom of worship.” Sarah Palin tweeted about “pain caused” while Newt Gingrich opined that the Islamic center “will only result in more pain for the families of 9/11 victims…”

Don’t mistake the metaphor, which does not have lost jobs standing in for lost lives. If anyone could be harmed by such religious community center it is not the 9/11 victims, and despite the depth of the feelings of the families––who should receive all the counseling, financial support, and practical help possible––their feelings are all that might suffer here, not their jobs, health, lifestyles, freedom of religion or pursuit of happiness. But consider another metaphor anyway. When someone is convicted of murder in America these days we often consider it just to prevent them profiting from it. The court may prevent them selling their story to Hollywood or demand that all proceeds go the victim’s family or to charity. We prevent the murderer profiting because it would cause anguish for the loved ones. What we don’t do is restrict the actions of other people, non-murderers, who may look like, sound like, worship like, or have come from the same town as the murderer.

Nothing yet suggests that every relative of every 9/11 victim would feel hurt if a mosque went up near ground zero. Such agreement among hundreds, perhaps thousands of individuals, some of them Muslim, seems, to say the least, highly unlikely. But if such a statement of opinion and personal feeling were agreed upon and issued should we do more than grant it a sympathetic hearing? Should we throw over ethics and law? What happens the next time feelings are hurt after a tragedy involving different people, issues, and laws? And if we decide to allow feelings to override ethics and law are we not obligated for fairness sake to consider the feelings of thousands of American Muslims, those who may use the center as well those who may never visit New York? Actually we don’t need to consider their feelings at all. We must, however consider their rights.

There are many legitimate reasons to limit the building of houses of worship in America but so far hurt feelings have not been among them. The people and organizations who suggest that the ethical and legal due processes of America be overlooked or overturned use the language of avoidance, telling you how not to be insensitive––don’t build a mosque in the area around ground zero. And they speak from their imaginations, asking you to trust their predictions about how others will feel. But what must we Americans do, what action must we take to avoid this insensitivity, to prevent these supposed hurt feelings? Look again at their own language, at the Anti-Defamation League’s advice for how to resolve this ethical conundrum: disregard your commitment to freedom of worship. And if anyone questions you or suggests you might have acted hypocritically and betrayed your values just say you couldn’t help the way you feel, you have EDHD.

2 Responses to “EDHD: Ethics Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder”
  1. And thank you for commenting and for finding sanity in the piece. This issue does contain areas ripe for investigation and debate, many that will be polarizing and controversial since they deal with religion, terrorism, perceptions of Islam, capitalism, and more, but the refrain from many about feelings directing constitutional interpretation, public policy, and the like, as well as being considered grounds for ignoring our own standards and laws is illogical, unjust, and against American and human values.

  2. Clare Keller says:

    THANK YOU DuncanRhys, Well said. This is the ranks with Mr. Wolf’s statement last night on The News with Jim Lehrer, as on of the sanest comments I’ve heard in the maelstrom in the teapot.

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