The other day, I was with a new colleague, trying to get our heads around publicity issues in a public seating area. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man approaching. He made a big scene of dragging chairs to the table next to us and I could tell instantly that he was there to engage with strangers, rather than get on with any work. He looked shifty and, to be blunt, clearly 'on something'. After he'd made various comments in a bid to distract us, my colleague and I got up to move.
'You're talking about committing crimes?' he asked.
'Crime fiction, not real crime,' said my colleague.
I didn't hear what he said next, but my colleague told me he'd brought up an interesting dilemma. He said he 'helped' people (referring to his drug dealing).
'I might be a criminal according to the law,’ he said, ‘but I'm a good person.' He slapped his chest to show how proud of himself he was.
I wondered at first if he seriously believed what he was saying or was hiding behind well-practised excuses. Was his reframing of the situation the only way he could live with himself? If you think you're doing something for the right reasons, is it less of a crime? (Take euthanasia, for example).
As a therapist, I’m interested in our intentions behind what we do and the nature of our own individual moral and ethical codes. It's worth noting that crimes are usually accompanied by the verb 'to commit'. We commit murder, we commit a burglary. The word implies we are one hundred per-cent behind the act, but many crimes aren’t like this. They are not ‘committed’ as such. They often come about after slipping over a fine line during a moment of weakness or rage. Or through a split-second decision. In fact, participation in all crimes could feature on a wide spectrum of underlying intention, from pure greed and malice all the way through to apparent acts of kindness, depending on our perspective. Ultimately though, it’s down to the courts to decide on the fit punishment.
If you’re interested in this kind of moral wrestling, look out for BBC Radio Four’s Dilemma programme, where Sue Perkins puts guests through the moral and ethical wringer (recordings are being made in October). Click here to Tweet this post