Years ago, when I was in training to become a master practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), we did a “self-knowledge” exercise, the implications of which were so frightening that all the students, with two exceptions (one of which was yours truly), ran for emotional cover rather than finish it. Instead of going deeper into the exercise they strayed into small talk, as if by tacit agreement.
What was so frightening to this group of explorers of the mind?The exercise was this: “Imagine an action you could physically do, but under ordinary circumstances would not want to do. Under what set of circumstances would you do it?” Every one got that far. “Under this new set of circumstances, what is something you could physically do but would not want to do?” I can’t speak to what others were thinking, but I could clearly see where this was leading. Each set of circumstances would be more extreme, more painful and coercive. Finally, I would be confronted with something I would not be willing to do under any circumstances. Or worse than that, I would realize that I was capable of doing anything that relieved the pressure.
It was this latter revelation that, in my opinion, my fellow classmates were loath to face. What if there is nothing so bad or wrong that I wouldn’t do it to save myself, or a loved one, pain or injury or death? What is my final stand? Do I even have one, or am I really a slave to expediency?
My exercise went like this: I could spit in my mother’s face, but I wouldn’t. If someone held a gun to her head and demanded that I spit in her face, I would do it. If that gun were still at her head in the next iteration of the exercise, what would I be unwilling to do? How about killing an innocent person? Would I do that to avoid my mother being shot in the head? I said I would not be willing to kill an innocent person even to save my own mother.
Now that I am married with three adult children, it becomes an even more difficult choice. What if the gun was on my wife or daughters? Would I be willing to kill an innocent person to save one of them? This kind of moral dilemma is only a dilemma if you have no comprehensive theology. What do I mean? I believe that my wife and daughters are sealed for salvation by Christ, and when they die will be with Him in heaven. That would be true regardless of how they died. If I killed an innocent person to give them more time before death, my action would show that I either don’t believe the previous sentences, or place my emotions above my moral code and belief in the goodness of God.
Without that theology, I would have no basis beyond my emotions to base such a decision on. This kind of dilemma is very popular as a plot line in movies and tv shows about terrorism or criminals. It’s been used recently on Homeland, 24 Legacy, Blacklist Redemption, Taken and more, and in all those cases the protagonist or hero opted to save their loved one. Since that was tv, they all managed to both save their loved ones and foil the bad guys. In real life, what would you do? Do you really know? Do you really want to know? Maybe not.