A Note on Dilemmas

Rarely in life do any of us have to pick between the lesser of two evils. Rare enough that I considered saying, “never.”

Instead, dilemmas show up that force us to choose the greater of two goods. We must pick between what is right and what is cool, or between what is beautiful and what is profitable, or between what is noble and what is merely acceptable.

Though hypothetical ethical scenarios are completely useless in forming a person of virtue, they will serve here as an illustration. If my wife was chained upon the rails of one branch of a railway fork, one hundred illegal immigrants were chained upon the other side, my hand was fused to the switch, and a train was coming…

Well…

That’s not a choice between the lesser of two evils, is it? The question is not “whom shall I kill?”

The question is: “whom shall I save?”

That was Hitler’s problem. Hitler didn’t start out evil. Hitler started out asking, “Where are we gonna put all of these Jews? Madagascar?” Well he chose one lesser good and then another… and then another… which, in the end, led to the greatest evil. He thought he was doing the right thing, that’s what terrifies us: Hitler was human. As in life, so in story — stories are progressed when a character faces a choice between two goods and then makes a decision and then faces the next choice when some crisis obstacle futher splits her path. If she chooses the lesser good, she becomes a lesser human. If she chooses the greater good, she becomes a greater human. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but hopefully this post puts some flesh on the bones of thought.

Well don’t take my word for it, take Dumbledore’s:

“The time will come, Harry, when you will have to choose between what is right and what is easy.”

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