Continuing my series of responses to the New York Times’, The Ethicist, without imposing values, here is my take on today’s post, “Should You Tell Uber Your Driver Was High?”
While traveling with my daughter and granddaughters, I booked an Uber car to go to the airport. When I got in the car, I smelled marijuana. Because we were running late and there was a lot of traffic, I stayed in the car, though my instinct was to get out and order a taxi.
The woman’s driving was not good, and when we arrived at the airport, I told her that she shouldn’t smoke weed when driving passengers. She denied doing it, and when I told her that her car smelled, she said it must have been a passenger. I told her she shouldn’t let her passengers smoke either.
If I report her to Uber, she may lose her job. She is a black woman with children, and she just moved to the area. If I don’t report her, there is a risk that she or others may be injured in her vehicle. Marijuana is not legal in the state where I hired her, so there are other ramifications, too. Name Withheld
My response: This letter sounds like a prank.
The biggest red flag is the writer’s apparent sexism and racism, as I read it, of involving the driver’s race and sex in his or her judgment, unless I’m missing the relevance. Are we supposed to treat her differently because she’s female or black?
Next, the naiveté and laissez-faire attitude toward illegal behavior that risks many people’s lives, including his or her daughter and granddaughters, combined with knowing the smell of marijuana, but not talking about it with her daughter.
Next, the confidence. How well could such a naive person tell the smell? Our Constitution has a right to due process because it recognizes how wrong people can be about such things. Despite the letter implying the smell was marijuana, we don’t know.
The New York Times response:
Should your driver get the boot? Car accidents are one of the largest causes of death in our country. So we should do what we can to reduce the risks. Unfortunately, the research on marijuana use and driving isn’t very clear, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse concedes. A careful study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “found no significant increased crash risk attributable to cannabis” after controlling for a number of factors. Other studies have reached different conclusions. What matters is that you thought her driving was “not good.”
Of course your judgment here could be biased by your suspicion that she might be high. And a suspicion is all it is: You don’t know whether she was high or whether you were detecting the fragrance of a previous passenger’s habit (or an earlier episode of her own). Telling Uber that she was driving under the influence would be putting someone’s livelihood at risk on a hunch. If you’re positive that she was driving badly, however, that’s something you should pass on, without mentioning your hypothesis about the marijuana. My guess is that reducing the number of people who provide taxi services while high would reduce car accidents. I’m certain that reducing the time spent behind the wheel by bad drivers would.
My husband often engages in horseplay with our daughter, who is 9. Sometimes when she’s had enough, she will call out “Stop!” or “No!” even if she instigated the tickling or wrestling. My husband doesn’t always stop, saying, “Oh, but you started it!” or “You’re just trying to get away!” It’s generally in good fun, although sometimes it all ends in tears.
If I call him on it, saying, “No means no” or “She said stop,” he’ll usually tell me not to butt in, that he is her parent, too. I know he doesn’t mean anything inappropriate, but in my view, daughters learn a lot about how to deal with boys and men from their fathers, and he should stop, thereby teaching her that her wishes should be respected.
Am I overreacting? Am I doing more harm than good by my making her dad uncomfortable? Or is a line being crossed? Name Withheld
My response: Yes. Yes. No. … Since you asked for opinions.
The New York Times response:
Your main question is one for a developmental psychologist. I have no idea whether this sort of play leads girls to grow up to accept abuse from people in authority. (Common-sense assumptions can turn out to be mistaken.) I do, however, have some thoughts on the ethical issues you raise.
Your husband’s complaint that you are “butting in” suggests that he thinks parental responsibility is something each of you has independently and to equal degrees. That’s wrong. Joint responsibility is something you exercise together. You need to discuss what is appropriate for your child and collaborate in rearing her.
This doesn’t mean you’ll always be in lock step. Kids know that there are gradients to keep in mind — that when Dad’s driving them home from soccer practice, a plea to stop at Dairy Queen will be more availing than when Mom’s at the wheel. Still, the view that you can each discharge your parental responsibilities on your own, in light of your own beliefs and values, doesn’t make much sense. Suppose your fears are well founded. Suppose, too, that children who hear a mother say “No means no” tend to resist abuse. Then what he’s doing is undermining what you’re doing. And it’s undermining an aim you doubtless share, which is to raise a woman who will resist attempts to mistreat her.
On the other hand, your husband’s statement that “he’s her parent, too,” might mean that his view of what’s good and bad has the same weight as yours. He’s asking you to respect his judgment that it’s all good, clean, harmless fun. He may think of it as strengthening his relationship with your daughter and perhaps as building her resilience too. If he’s right, there are costs to doing things your way. You’re both, in effect, saying, “I have as much right to my hunches as you do.” What would be helpful would be trying to see what the evidence actually shows.
A friend of mine met a Canadian man online. He is handsome and charming and treats her very lovingly. At first she was reluctant to become more involved, because he is working illegally here in the United States. He does consulting work and is paid quite well — in cash. He told me that he crosses the border at a place that’s “easier than others,” which makes me wonder what other laws he might be violating. He is openly critical of this country, seeing it as the root of all evil. He seems to think that’s enough reason to “fudge” the rules.
I told my friend that no matter how charming and loving this man is, it would be difficult for me not to be frank with him about his dishonesty and his lack of a right to criticize our politics when he disregards the law. She said she had overstayed her visa while traveling in Australia some years ago and didn’t see how she could criticize. She has continued the relationship and knows my feelings; I haven’t seen her for almost a year. If I were to report his work, it would be quite obvious that it was me. Am I obligated to report him? Name Withheld
My response: You sound like you want to report him. The only reason I can think of for you to mention that “If I were to report his work, it would be quite obvious that it was me” is that you’re concerned about blowback to yourself, suggesting that you are looking for someone to tell you it is your obligation.
In other words, you seem to believe you’re right by your standards but not by others’ and you’re looking to absolve yourself of responsibility. Maybe I’m misreading or reading in too much.
There are no absolute rules of obligation here. Obligation is an abstract concept without a definition or rules everyone would agree on. The issue I see is if you are willing to live with the consequences of your actions when they affect you. Instead of asking for others to absolve you of responsibility, which I would call juvenile, I recommend you take responsibility for your choices, take into account how they affect others, do what you think is right, and live with the consequences without being able to say “But the New York Times told me I was obliged to.” In other words, act with responsibility and empathy, not with some fantasy of a rule book that you can say forced you to do it.
The New York Times response:
Ah, yes: the case of the Annoying Canadian. Those of us who identify with the United States feel pride in its achievements and shame in its failures, but we’re mostly not keen to have those failures pointed out by foreigners. It must be doubly annoying that he’s profiting from his presence in a country he reviles. But none of this affects whether he’s entitled to his criticisms. And it certainly doesn’t affect whether they have any validity.
Still, though there are bad reasons for wanting to report him, there are good ones, too. The immigration laws that he’s flouting are not unreasonable. States must have the right to control who comes in and out. The rules shouldn’t be racist or religiously discriminatory or otherwise immoral; they should recognize the special situation of those fleeing persecution. (Executive orders that run roughshod over such basic principles rightly provoke revulsion.) But you shouldn’t overstay a tourist visa or work without the necessary papers. And he’s presumably breaking the tax laws, too. The fact that there are creditable grounds for reporting him, however, doesn’t mean you’re obliged to do so. And, in fact, there are good reasons not to. For one thing, if you do report our Annoying Canadian, you would be betraying a friend — and, given what you say, ending a friendship.
A final thought: Your friend thinks you can’t criticize someone for a kind of offense that you yourself have committed. That’s a mistake. If we lived in a world where that rule was honored, there would be a lot of silences to fill.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book