A Moral Dilemma
19 Jan 2008
I recently read a very interesting article called Do the Right Thing which discusses moral standards in different cultures. From the article:
> Consider the following dilemma: Mike is supposed to be the best man at a friend’s wedding in Maine this afternoon. He is carrying the wedding rings with him in New Hampshire, where he has been staying on business. One bus a day goes directly to the coast. Mike is on his way to the bus station with 15 minutes to spare when he realizes that his wallet has been stolen, and with it his bus tickets, his credit cards, and all his forms of ID.
> At the bus station Mike tries to persuade the officials, and then a couple of fellow travelers, to lend him the money to buy a new ticket, but no one will do it. He’s a stranger, and it’s a significant sum. With five minutes to go before the bus’s departure, he is sitting on a bench trying desperately to think of a plan. Just then, a well-dressed man gets up for a walk, leaving his jacket, with a bus ticket to Maine in the pocket, lying unattended on the bench. In a flash, Mike realizes that the only way he will make it to the wedding on time is if he takes that ticket. The man is clearly well off and could easily buy himself another one.
> Should Mike take the ticket?
The article stated that Americans are likely to say that no, Mike should not take the ticket, but that in many cultures Mike’s social obligation outweighs the prohibition against stealing.
Since Chinese culture attaches great importance to relationships, I would expect Chinese people to agree that Mike should take the ticket and get to the wedding. But will they really?
I’m leaving the conclusion up to you, my readers. Pose the story above to a Chinese person or two, ask them the question, and then in the comment of this posts, report back on what they say. I’ll add the results to the end of this post.
UPDATE: The responses seem quite divided. I gather that most of the commenters have a multi-cultural viewpoint (for example, Chinese abroad, or Westerners in Shanghai), so it’s hard to say what the “typical” answer would be. Conclusion: blog posts may not be the best medium for anthropological research into cross-cultural moral codes. Shocking!