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8/31/2007
A Morality Tale
Earlier this week my law firm had a Continuing Legal Education and Ethics class taught by James E. Moliterno, a professor of law at William & Mary. Prof. Moliterno used an interesting hypothetical to start off our discussion and to segue into our "Ethics in Negotiation" discussion - the purpose for the CLE. The resulting discussion of the hypothetical* was so interesting that I asked Professor Moliterno if I could share it here on my blog for discussion.

The Sad Saga of Nicole and Stephan:

Nicole and Stephan are very much in love. They want to be married and stay together for all of their lives. Unfortunately, they are separated by a deep, swift flowing river, in which there are alligators, and neither is a good swimmer.

Nicole sees Robert standing next to his boat on her side of the river. She goes to Robert and asks him to take her across the river so that she can be with Stephan. Robert replies that he will do so only if she sleeps with him. Desiring to remain faithful to Stephan, Nicole refuses.

Looking around, she sees Stephan's friend Earnest nearby, and goes to ask him for help to get to Stephan. She tells Earnest the situation, but he turns and walks away saying that he is too busy to become involved.

Still wanting to get across the river to be with Stephan, Nicole returns to Robert and pleads with him to take her across the river, but he stands firm. Finally Nicole relents and sleeps with Robert, who then takes her safely across the river to Stephan.

Nicole then relates the story to Stephan. When Stephan learns what has happened, he tells Nicole that she has prostituted herself, and he wants nothing more to do with her; and he walks away.

Nicole is brokenhearted. As she is walking home reflecting on her experience, she meets her friend Donald. He asks her what is wrong, and she tells him the whole story. Donald is incensed. He finds Stephan and beats him up.

THE END.

The Characters:

Nicole
Stephan
Robert
Earnest
Donald

Now here's what I'd like all of you to do: Take a few minutes and rank each of the 5 characters from the "best" to the "worst," with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. Do this before you look at the comments. Tell me your rankings in the comments and why you made the decisions you did. Were any of the rankings more difficult for you? Why?

Discuss.

Feel free to tell me your ranking and rationale on your own blogs and leave me a link in the comments if you'd like. I'll add your links to my next post where I tell you my rankings and some thoughts about the discussion process.

This should be entertaining! Yes, I'm a geek.

*The Sad Saga of Nicole and Stephan was originally written by Anina Klein, MSW, with editorial support from Alan M. Lerner.

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33 Comments:

Blogger moosh in indy. said...

Nicole-at least she tried.
Donald-Chivalry is hot.
Earnest-Maybe he really has an alligator phobia.
Robert-He's a dude, a nasty dude, but he had the boat.
Stephan-Rivers have to end eventually dude, buck up and find a way to your woman.

Blogger Christine said...

nicole--she did it for love, even if it was kinda gross

stephen--no loyalty but he is hurt and sad

donald--violence is bad but he was defending a friend

earnest--everything bad could have been avoided if he only helped

robert--yuck

Blogger Mamma said...

Nicole--she was just trying to get to her man.

Donald--he knows Stephan is an ass but he shouldn't beat anyone up

Robert--he saw an opportunity and took it

Stephan--he was hurt, but love should have helped him to understand

Earnest--there is a special place in hell for want to remain "neutral"

I'm a geek too. This was fun. I want to hear your rating.

Blogger flutter said...

OK

Stephan-4 dickhead. If he had gotten off his butt, perhaps Nicole would not have felt that sleeping with Robert was her only option

Robert- 5 jackass opportunist.

Nicole- 3 prone to desperate measures. She could have paid Robert, or even Earnest with money, instead of using her body.

Earnest- 2 selfish, but who knows, he could have thought Nicole was insane. We don't really know what he had going on in his life, maybe he really couldn't help.

Donald- 1 Loyal, and passionate. Yeah he threw punches, but he did it out of friendship. I like him.

Blogger painted maypole said...

wow, i cannot even begin to rank them. They all behaved terribly. I would say, though, that perhaps nicole was the only one with decent motives?

Anonymous Emily said...

Nicole -- She really should have made Stephan sleep with Robert, but otherwise she's OK

Donald -- violence doesn't solve anything, but at least his motives were OK.

Robert -- Saw an opportunity and went with it. Schmuck, but I can understand where he was coming from.

Earnest -- Bigger schmuck because he had no REASON for not helping (unless he was too busy saving baby seals)

Stephan -- he's the worst. Priggish SOB who judges the woman he loves. Jerk.

Blogger Julie said...

Interesting little exercise. Reminds me of health class in high school where we had to choose who in a group of five to put on a lifeboat and who to leave for dead.

I wonder how much gender plays into one's response to the rankings -- for example do women hate Stephan more than men do? How about Nicole?

Anyway, here are my responses:

Nicole - although I feel sorry for her, I think she had good motives but felt desperate

Donald - like everyone else has said, he didn't need to beat up Stephan, but at least his heart was in the right place

Robert - while I hate hate hate Robert, all he really did was provide a service for which he charged a certain payment. Nicole had the choice to contract with him or not to. It's not like he forced her.

Earnest - I'm torn as to whether to put Earnest or Stephan last, mostly because I don't know why Earnest wouldn't get involved, but I guess I feel like giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Stephan - Douchebag.

Anonymous Anne Glamore said...

I'm also wondering how much your life experience has to do with this.

Robert - he stated his price and stuck to it

Earnest- if I put him any lower we would ALL look bad

Donald- he has no reason (other than "chivalry") to beat up S-- unnecessary violence

Stephen - he should have been looking for solutions, but the hypo doesn't say he wasn't.

Nicole - she DID prostitute herself. Another man would have walked on that side of the river while sad-ass Stephen wasted time not thinking of a solution that wasn't ethically questionable.

Blogger Two Shews said...

Wow. I have a completely different answer than just about everyone.

Earnest: While walking away from the problem was reprehensible, it was not his problem. We are all guilty to this to some extent. While walking away is not the best option, a world where we all get into each other's drama is also not attractive.

Stephan: He has a right to his moral standards, and it is not true that "love conquers all." It is not true that if you really love someone, all things can be forgiven. Wouldn't it be worse for him to falsely forgive what he found morally unacceptable, and live a lie with her forever?

Donald: Chivalry is hot, but random acts of violence in a situation that didn't even involve him is just wrong. I didn't catch the part of the story where he asked Stephen for his point of view and tried to be a peacekeeper/matchmaker? Violence is a last resort, and at this point moot, because it's not going to change the situation. The relationship is still over.

Nicole: There is always another way than compromising yourself or your morals. This is akin to lighting your house on fire so no one robs it. She ruined the thing she was trying to save. And it wasn't a matter of life or death-- but of the heart. We have no idea what Nicole's other options were. Learn to kill crocodiles?

Robert: While he was forthright, to be sure, in my mind the exploitation of our fellow humans in need is small step below murder. What if this had been the proverbial "Nicole needs medicine to save her life" analogy? We would forgive Nicole more easily, but would find Robert's exploitation of the situation abhorrent.

Blogger Jenn said...

1.) Nicole: What wouldn't you do for the one that you love? The answer is never as simple as we think.

2.) Donald: Cause we all need a Donald. Someone to just kick ass for us when we can't anymore.

3.) Earnest: Karma, dude. That's all I got to say about him. Just wait till his boat springs a leak in the alligator infested waters and the person on the shore with the life jacket is too busy to toss it.

4.) Robert: P.I.G.

5.) Stephan: That part of you she sold? It was for you, bastard. What the fuck were you doing to get across that river?

Anonymous JW said...

I'm looking at this from my materialist feminist viewpoint, and I'm accepting the limits of the scenario, assuming that Nicole can't walk to the ATM and buy a boat or hire the Ghost of the Croc Hunter.

Nicole has been placed in an impossible situation (interesting that she's the sole female in this mini-universe), and her only way of reaching her goal is to screw Robert. So she does. Many women turn to prostitution as a last resort (see the recent NYT report about the thousands of Iraqi women who have been forced into the sex trade to feed themselves and their families). Nicole is not reprehensible; she is simply being practical. The system is set up to exploit her; it's unavoidable. So, she is using the resources she has been relegated in this economy (her body) with the goal of changing her circumstances. She is a woman in the patriarchy.

Donald has entered the situation after the fact; he was unable to solve the problem. While beating up Stephan is not going to solve anything, Donald recognizes that Nicole has gotten a crap deal all around and is angered by the injustice. He is the misguided feminist ally.

Stephan is the hypocritical "nice guy." Once Nicole tells him about the deal she had to strike with Robert, Stephan is totally focused on the sex act, not on their future prospects as a couple, or even Nicole as a person. Her undesired-but-necessary sexual act (which was not emotionally, but economically, motivated), has "spoiled" her as a partner, which proves that his "love" was predicated on a sense of ownership tied to sexual access. He is a douchebag.

Earnest pretends that the situation has nothing to do with him. However, he is protecting his own interests by of not getting involved, because he may hope to someday benefit from another Earnest's un-earnestness to help a woman like Nicole, in which case she can swap a boat ride for sex. He is the patriarch's lick-spittle.

Robert is the capitalist patriarch who exploits others for his own gain. He has the power (the boat), and believes that entitles him to use other people. He sees Nicole as a product to be consumed and easily discarded. He has the power, so the ultimate responsibility/blame is his to bear. He is the enemy.

Blogger NotSoSage said...

I just can't figure out why Nicole can walk home but couldn't walk there.

And I feel sad and sorry for all of them:

For Nicole - in a position that many women find themselves in - where her body is her only currency.

For Earnest who is so closed off from the world that he step up when his friend's partner asks for help.

For Robert, whose power may get him those things that shine on the surface, but are hollow inside.

For Stephan who can't see past his own pain to recognise the desperation of his partner and help her heal.

For Donald, who thinks that violence will somehow right a perceived wrong when perhaps he could have done more to help his friends with rational conversation.

It all makes me very melancholy, actually.

Interesting exercise and post. I look forward to your response.

Blogger Sarcasta-Mom said...

LOL! All these are so great! I went a did a post before I peeked
http://sarcastamom.blogspot.com/2007/08/morality-tale.html

I love seeing everyone's different lists and expainations. Great exersise....

Blogger Mad Hatter said...

Sorry, I can't even do the ranking. I'm reeling at how often these anecdotal stories are predicated on women's sexuality as their only form of agency. So I guess I would Moliterno at the bottom of the list for not coming up with a more egalitarian scenario. Sorry. Guess I'm just cranky.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Mad, I completely know what you mean, but he didn't come up with it. A female social worker did. I think the inclusion of sexuality as currency is intentional because of our emotional (and sometimes not fully rational) reaction to it.

Blogger Dana J. Tuszke said...

Ernest - He had the common sense not to get involved. It sounds mean but he didn't interfere with someone else's problems.

Stephen - He could have been more forgiving of Nicole and realized what she did was a means to be with him.

Nicole - She lost track of her morals and slept with Robert thinking she was doing it for the right reason.

Donald - Two wrongs don't make a right. He shouldn't have beat Stephen up.





Robert - He was taking advantage of someone in need. He could have just been a good Samaritan.

Blogger QT said...

I'm sorry, I read the comments and I COMPLETELY agree jw on each and every count!

I especially love

He is the patriarch's lick-spittle.

Blogger slouching mom said...

best: donald
then nicole
stephan
robert
worst: earnest

Earnest is the worst because he is in the best position to help but does not. Nothing is at stake for him, but still be remains unmoved by Nicole's plight.

Donald is the best because even though he lets his anger get the best of him, his anger is justified.

Blogger Brillig said...

Fascinating stuff! I'm going with my gut here, and I retain the right to change my mind completely!

1. Ernest. He didn't get involved--we don't really know why. But everyone who DID get involved made a bigger mess. So he gets the highest ranking for not screwing things up more.

2. Donald. His intentions were good, I suppose, but his actions were stupid. He has no right to hurt anyone, chivalry or not.

3. Stephen. Idiot. No heart, no compassion, not worth the (stupid) sacrifices that were made for him. Still, he's better than Nicole...

4. Nicole. She sold out. She most certainly did NOT have to sleep with Robert. If she really loved Stephen she would have stayed put and waited for a better solution rather than betray him and "prostitute" herself--she had other choices, and it's a bunch of CRAP to say that she didn't.

5. Robert. Robert swung in and took advantage of the desperation of a woman. He is the lowest of the low. He had the ability to make this situation right, instead he destroyed everything and everyone. He's the ultimate bad guy.

Can't wait to read your follow up!

Anonymous JW said...

What do you mean, Nicole had other options? She asks Robert for a favor, he denies her that but offers her the terms of exchange, and she says no. She goes looking for other avenues, but is rejected by Earnest. The situation is obviously artificial; but within the parameters laid out here, Nicole has only two options: screw Robert for the boat trip, or do nothing.

Blogger bubandpie said...

At first I thought that the crux of the issue is whether Earnest is telling the truth. "Too busy" seems like an obvious cop-out, but maybe he really WAS too busy. Why should we assume that he's lying?

But then I decided that it doesn't matter: even if he IS lying, he is still entitled to not get involved. Nobody's life is at stake: this is just a woman who wants to be with her man. As far as I can tell, Earnest was completely entitled to act as he did.

The other person who's entitled to do what he did was Stephan. Yes, his actions were hurtful to Nicole, but he leaving the relationship is ultimately his prerogative, for any reason.

But, but, but. I'm on Nicole's side. So I rank her ahead of Stephan on gut-feeling.

I'm not a big fan of Donald. Get off your soapbox and get a life, thug.

Robert: scum.

So here's my ranking, from best to worst:

Earnest
Nicole
Stephan
Donald
Robert

Fun game!

Blogger Jennifer said...

My head is spinning! I would rank them, best to worst:


Stephan. Crappy, yes. But people are free to end a relationship if they so choose, for whatever reason. (And, psst, Nicole -- you're better off without a dude who can't even take a swimming lesson!)

Nicole. She made what she thought was the best of a bad situation and expected love and forgiveness of the one she sacrificed for. (But, still, Nicole. This was not a matter of life or death, but getting what you wanted.)

Donald. Random violence that really has nothing to do with him? (Don. If you were going to beat someone up, why not Earnest or Robert?)

Robert. He offered but did not force. Nicole was free to walk away -- again, not a matter of life or death. On the other hand, he abused his position of power in a huge way and did so at the expense of another. (Robert, you are Big Business.)

Earnest. He had the power to help another person and elected to walk away without helping. (Earnest? Ever hear of karma?)


This was so much more difficult than I'd expected it would be. I changed my order at least three times.

Blogger Brillig said...

JW, you're saying exactly what I'm saying. Doing nothing WAS another option. Waiting for future options was another. Waiting for Stephan to get his head out of his butt and try something himself was another option. Sleeping with Robert was the worst of all of these options--which she KNEW in her heart, because she'd rejected it at first. But she got impatient and silly, and she chose it. She degraded herself, fed the pig, and ruined the relationship. "Doing nothing" was a MUCH better option.

Robert- shame on him for taking advantage of a woman in need

Nicole- WTH was she thinking

Earnest- way to be there for a friend in need

Stephan- Can't say I really blame him....but how about a little more understanding

Donald- I think he falls under "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions" YOU KNOW WHAT.....I think that statement sums up this entire post!

Blogger Moondance said...

Would any of your answers change if Nicole were a man and the guy with the boat were female?

Anonymous Angela said...

Best to Worst:

Nicole: did what she did for love

Donald: did what he did maybe in defense of Nicole's honor, but still violence isn't really a good way to handle things so below Nicole.

Ernest: he wasn't violent or mean, but still what a jerk to not offer to help out. Prick.

Stephen: You screaming asshole. WTF did you do to get over to the other side huh? sanctimonious dung heap. I hope Donald broke your nose.

Robert: Troll Excrement. Demanding such a payment for a simple services. Probably knowing what kind of hurt it would cause and not caring. I hope you were eaten by alligators on the way back to your side.

Anonymous Anne Glamore said...

Am noticing that so far I am the only one who has put Nicole last. And as someone else mentioned, if she were a man, wouldn't we view her act not as "I'll do anything for the one I love" but as "sure - a quick screw for a ride across the river - no problem!"?

Blogger GHD said...

Ah! Lawyer Mama, is there no end to your cleverness? This is a GREAT post. I read it last night, but have reserved judgment until I could sleep on it. So, here goes, though it may be unpopular ( I still need to read the other comments):

Best to Worst.

Stephen: Virtue was one of, if not THE thing he wanted in a soul mate and he was unwavering in his conviction. I don't think he should be faulted for knowing what he wants.

Nicole: I have to give her some love. Though misguided, her actions were noble and self-sacrificing. She shouldn't have allowed herself to be compromised and it's very sad that she did it in vain.

Earnest: Yeah, he could have helped, but he choose not to. A choice that was his right to make. He didn't want to get involved. It wasn't his problem.

Donald: So where was he when a girl needed some help? Sure, he beat up Stephen, but did it really solve anything? NOPE! Plus, we really don't know what his real motives were. Who knows? He may just like to fight...

Robert: Ick! Taking advantage of someone in need is despicable. He deserves to go straight to hypothetic hell.

Blogger ewe are here said...

Wow, your CLE course sounds so much more interesting than mine ever did!

Anyway, late to 'the game', but I'll give you my quick list just because ... and I keep waffling on it, too, but...:

1. Earnest (Because he doesn't have to help, no matter what his reason)

2. Nicole (Although I think she should have waited until she found another way, she did what she felt she had to do to get to her one true love -or so she thought at the time- and didn't 'hurt' anybody but herself really.)

3. Donald (I don't think he should have done it, battered Stephen, but, well, I kind of understand it...)

4. Stephen (Ass.)

5. Robert (More so.)

Blogger ExPatSW said...

As instructed, I have not read anyone else's comments. Here are my thoughts:

#1: Donald - loyal and supportive, I wish he hadn't chosen violence as his way of showing it but no one is perfect.

#2: Earnest - Yeah, he's a schmuck but at least he's true to himself. One must hope that when he needs a helping hand, others won't be too busy for him.

#3: Robert - An opportunistic cretin, he too is being true to himself. Until he meets someone who truly can't be bought, he is unlikely to change. Why would we expect him to be no better than he is capable of being?

#4: Stefan - There should be a special place in hell for self-righteous, judgemental, pious individuals! Let's just hope that his God is of the same ilk come Judgement Day!

#5: Nicole - WTF, woman?! Did you even think about building your own boat? No man is worth prostituting yourself, especially not cretin Stefan!

Anonymous Pinks & Blues said...

Donald - for defending a friend

Nicole - for loving enough and sacrificing enough to get to Stephen

Stephen - because i don't think he's as worse as the last 2 guys

Earnest - b/c he did nothing

Robert - for putting someone in the position to have to choose between love and honor

Blogger UB SoCal said...

1. Earnest - although he is hardly a good samaritan, it was not his problem. I hate that I tend to get myself involved in things that I should just stay out of and then later regret it. Go with your gut.

2. Stephen - Not a very forgiving or understanding person, but a victim nevertheless.

3. Donald - Even though he thought he was helping a friend (good intentions), he resorted to violence.

4. Nicole - How warped! Sleep with one man so that you can get to the one you love??? Either horny or impatient...but definitely dumb!

5. Robert - Scum...opportunist...low life!

Anonymous Jen said...

Okay, my top and bottom are pretty easy.

Earnest at the top -- it's not necessary that he get involved in this. Nicole isn't seeking medical treatment or saving a child or anything, she just wants a guy. Running a taxi/dating service is not morally required. He's not being good here, but he's also not being bad in any way.

Robert at the bottom -- he's the only one who is clearly stepping onto the bad side on purpose. Not because he feels he has some moral qualms (Stephan) or flying off the handle (Donald) or consumed by "love" (Nicole).

The other three, for the reasons mentioned above, I'd pretty much tie. Nicole knew it was wrong to sleep with Robert, if she didn't she'd have done it first thing. Donald introduced violence into a situation that was truly none of his business. Stephan, well, maybe he saw a side of Nicole he hadn't known about and reacted too quickly. It's an ugly choice, but one he's entitled to make. Turns out Nicole really shouldn't have sold herself out to get to that, eh?

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