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Dealing with Moral Dilemmas

Updated on August 13, 2014

“Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.”

― Mark Twain

Unfortunately, what the great American writer Mark Twain suggested is hardly easy to do.

Everyone understands that definition of "what is right" is ambiguous. Shades of gray color certain situations. Their absolute correctness is difficult to decide. We end up, not of our own volition, in moral dilemmas,

Moral dilemmas therefore happen when kinship or friendship complicates our sense of right and wrong.

Yet, our sense of right and wrong prompts us to deal with them . Just how do we do so?


Considerations that cause moral dilemmas

To deal with these less-than-straightforward moral entanglements, we must. first understand what gives rise to them.

Making appropriate moral decisions is difficult for these reasons.

1. Kinship

The first one is kinship. Moral decisions are not straightforward because they may affect our loved ones in some way.

This is akin to a scene from a soap opera, but similar, though less dramatic occurrences are possible. If someone asks you to commit a heinous crime or risk having your family compromised, the decision is not an easy one to make.

2. Friendship

Friendship is another reason making moral decisions is tough.

If bullies threaten to attack your best friend unless you steal, it is not an easy choice either.

3. Our own principles

Thirdly, we may have a "hard and fast" principles. They make it hard for us to empathize with situations clouded in shades of gray.

Making a seemingly righteous decision is not always straightforward.

4. Ambiguity

And then, some situations are morally ambiguous.

Consider this scenario. Your company stipulates that its employees should not use company stationery for their own purposes, but you witness a co-worker using a single sheet of paper to type a quick personal letter.

Does this constitute stealing?

5. Fear

Fear, too, causes moral dilemmas. Fear of an abusive person may trigger an impulse to harm him, lest he attacks again.

Moral decisions are difficult to make at times, because we have to defend ourselves.

6. We have different moral standards.

Lastly, we have different moral standards. What is acceptable to one is not to another, creating conflicts of interest.

Further, one can only decide what is right on one's own, as morality is subjective.

Explaining a moral dilemma

Dealing with personal moral dilemmas

With this understanding in mind, we are better equipped to deal with life's gray areas.

But exactly how do we go about dealing with these conundrums?

1. Be aware of what is causing the moral dilemma.

Firstly, come to terms what is causing the dilemma. Is it the ties of kinship? Or is it our fear that is preventing us from making proper moral decisions?

This gives us a better idea of the obstacles we have to overcome as we face our moral dilemmas.

2. Have the facts before you.

Then have the facts on hand. Knowing all circumstances surrounding the dilemma helps us deal with it rationally.

3. Think about the consequences.

Further, think about the ramifications of your decisions. What or who will they affect? What will it hurt?

4. Consider the moral standards of your actions.

To round off, weigh your own actions against moral standards. Ask if you have tried your best in doing the right thing morally.


Dealing with moral dilemmas at work

Moral dilemmas are, as their name states, confusions that complicate decisions. The workplace, in particular, is where moral dilemmas surface.

Knotty as these situations are, options are available to us to deal with them.

1. Gather the facts.

The first course of action when presented with a moral dilemma at work is to gather the facts. What we see as morally unethical is sometimes clouded by

office politics or biased judgments.

Put relevant information together before deciding what to do.

2. Decide if it is moral or personal.

Then decide if you have moral or personal biases. If someone is seen as morally improper, decide if it this is a purely personal judgment, or one made because the person did do wrong.

3. Get a different perspective.

Then, ask a neutral party for his or her perspective on the matter. Consult someone who is familiar with your line of work.

This person may offer a balanced view of the circumstances at hand.

4. Find out about established policies

The last option open to us when faced with a moral dilemma at the workplace is to familiarize yourself with established policies and workplace ethics. These should guide your professional and even personal actions.

These guidelines show if involved parties followed proper, ethical procedures.

How do you deal with moral dilemmas?

See results

Some challenging moral dilemmas

Here are some challenging moral dilemmas. What would you do if you faced them?

1. The Prisoner of War

Imagine that you are a prisoner of war. A sadistic enemy guard asks you to shoot your husband.

He says that if you do not, he will kill another innocent prisoner of war. What would you do?

2. The Paramedic

You are a paramedic who arrives at the scene of an accident. You discover that your wife and her lover are the victims.

Both are bleeding profusely, but you cannot save both on time. If you choose to help one, the other will bleed to death.

Who would you help first?

3. The pregnant tour guide

A pregnant tour guide is leading a group of tourists out of a popular cave on the coast. With her huge belly, she cannot get out of the mouth of the cave. No one can get out.

The tide is rising, slowly filling the cave with water. They have to leave the cave before they drown.

Rescue workers come with sticks of dynamite. Blowing up the mouth of the cave will kill the pregnant woman, but save the others. Should they?


We face many moral dilemmas that we have to approach as rationally as possible.

Share your experiences with us.


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    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      An excellent topic. It makes me smile, as your hold on these things is uncanny. You have a great sense of the human condition.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Chitra.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Everyday we are faced with such moral dilemmas. We learn to deal with it, by thinking about the issue in a rational way. I talk to my near and dear ones, who love me if it is too tricky. Otherwise I have full faith in God and I always pray to him to guide me in the right direction.

      Thanks for this thought provoking hub!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      It does indeed, Rasma!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, prayer helps us survive it, Devika.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      That always works, Conservative Lady. Thank you for sharing.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Cristina!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Janet!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      It's not easy, isn't it, Sha? Sometimes we're stuck in these situations and if you do anything about it, you get caught in the middle. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, snerfu.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      They don't seem plausible in reality, I suppose, Travmaj. But we certainly get into similar conundrums!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, these dilemmas are fascinatingly challenging. Thanks for sharing, Manatita.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 3 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      I always find that prayer helps greatly and I keep to my faith. Passing this on.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I pray and feel relieved of that dilemma. A great thought here.

    • Conservative Lady profile image

      Sheila 3 years ago from Surprise Arizona - formerly resided in Washington State

      Prayer guides me well during times of moral confusion. My motto is "Do what is right, not what is Comfortable" it has helped me through many situations. I also believe in the "greater good" principle - what is best for the majority. Interesting Hub.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Good thoughts to ponder about. Guess, the challenge is which way to choose.

      Excellent topic. Up and sharing.

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 3 years ago from Georgia country

      This is a really tough topic. I couldn't decide what to do in all these cases you mentioned at the end of your hub. I think you can only make a decision when you are in that situation. Very well written hub.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Michelle, I was once asked at work to fudge receiving documents to make the material appear to have been ordered for a job that paid for the material as part of the contract. The company I worked for at the time was having trouble making ends meet. I told my boss I could not in good conscience do what they asked of me. I was respected for my moral stance on the issue. However, my boss ended up fudging the documents himself. Even though I wasn't involved, I had knowledge of the fact, which made me feel as guilty as if I'd manipulated the documents myself.

    • snerfu profile image

      Vivian Sudhir 3 years ago from Madurai, India

      Indeed doing what is right may be tougher to find than the sunshine. But that makes life so interesting. Very well written.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      Michelle, I agree with Manatita, this is a most challenging hub. I'm not the most decisive person and tend to anguish when faced with some of the more challenging decisions. The three moral dilemmas you present, I can't answer. Oh dear, what a confession.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 3 years ago from london

      Nice but challenging Hub. Some tough dilemmas at the end.

      I still maintain that I will seek the answer from within. In this case, it means prayer, although frankly each one will make a decision based on where he or she is on the ladder of evolution. Judas chose to betray Christ, but Matthew could just as easily have said no.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks so much, Bill. Will be visiting later!!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent food for thought. I saved this for later in the day when my work was done and I could give it the attention it deserved. Living life isn't easy, is it? We are called upon daily to make difficult decisions that can have huge ramifications.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      How do you deal with a moral dilemma?