Blog for weekly ethics column by Jeffrey L. Seglin distributed by Tribune Media. For information about carrying The Right Thing in your print or online publication, contact information is available at http://www.tmsfeatures.com/contact/ or a e-mail a Tribune Media sales representative at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your ethical questions to email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @jseglin or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seglin
Sunday, June 10, 2012
It would be so nice if you weren't here
As the summer bears down on us, the anticipation of
holidays and family gatherings is not far behind. A reader from Southern
California observes that while she looks forward to the joy a family holiday
can bring, she also approaches each with some trepidation. "If families
get along great, it's all wonderful," she writes.
But, she asks, what if the family doesn't all get along?
"What if a Hatfield-McCoy type feud lingers on?"
Even worse, she writes, is when everyone in her household
hates one family member so much they want to cut him out of any holiday
gatherings in her home.
"How do you really get rid of that person when you
grew up with him and you still have deep memories of the good times in the past
and the current situation breaks you up inside?" she asks. "It tears
your soul and you know that taking that person out of your life holds
consequences. Then again, you also know that it will be better to exclude him
because life with your current family means more to you than anything."
She aaks: "What do you do in that situation? Someone
out there must be going through a similar situation and feeling the same
The reader recognizes that this relative is not perfect.
He likes attention and speaks louder than he should. He doesn't take no for an
answer. "Above all else, he's confronted me whenever I have asked him to leave."
In the past, the reader has tried before to eliminate the
relative from events and, she writes, it made her "a different person
"Is it ethical for people to ask to eliminate a
family member from gatherings just because everyone doesn't get along with
There is nothing unethical about my reader's family
members asking that someone not be invited to gatherings because of his past
behavior. But if my reader is the person who takes responsibility for
organizing and planning family events, there is nothing unethical about her
deciding to invite the fellow anyway.
Her challenge is to figure out how to weigh the desires
of her immediate family to avoid having contact with someone they deem
unpleasant against her own desire to be as inclusive as she can when it comes
to family gatherings.
She may decide it sets an uncomfortable precedent to
single out family members for exclusion. Or she may be concerned that it sends
a message of intolerance she doesn't want to convey. If these are true, then
she's likely to want to keep inviting him, making it clear why to those
requesting his absence.
But if she decides that he is simply so disruptive and
uncontrollable at events that any hope of a joyful event is lost, then she's
not obligated to invite him.
Ultimately, the choice is hers. Given that excluding him
in the past has torn her up inside, it would seem the best right thing is to
continue to invite him but to be clear with her family members why. They, in
turn, should respect her decision.