When Nadia and Saeed come to London, they live in the mansion that they arrived in. While Nadia adjusts without much of a hitch, Saeed feels uncomfortable. When narrating about Saeed’s adjustment to his new existence, Saeed “felt in part guilt that they … were occupying a home that was not their own, and guilty also at the visible deterioration brought on by their presence” and was “the only one to object when people started to take for themselves items of value in the house” (132). This contrast between Nadia’s self-preservation and Saeed’s morality begs the question, how does one be moral in times of crisis?
On one hand, Nadia’s enjoyment and willingness to do whatever she can to do to survive is perfectly reasonable. After all, it’s hard to blame her for using the few liberties she can, e.g. looting laptops from her former workplace, taking a shower, and snatching some valuables from the mansion, because ultimately, it’s nothing compared to the hardships of migration, hostile militants, and sexual assault that she deals with. I doubt anyone would argue that anything Nadia does is unreasonable or even wrong.
In contrast, Saeed abides by his moral code of conduct even as the world around him throws him for a loop. Even as his mother dies and he’s forced out of his hometown without his father, he still remains adamant in his moral code. He still refuses to have sex with Nadia, objects to looting their mansion, and even feels guilt for living in the mansion, even though it gives him a reprieve from the months of hardship before him. His behavior is unquestionably morally upright, but it’s unknown how sustainable or realistic his behavior his. Without the pragmatism of Nadia, Saeed would still be stuck in the Greek camp, completely broke, and without a comfortable place to live. Saeed’s goodness is unpractical and ultimately self-defeating in a world where surviving is a struggle.
I believe that in the end, that one cannot be fully moral in this world, especially not in times of crisis. I don’t mean to say that our moral compass needs to be compromised completely for the sake of getting ahead slightly, but that sometimes one must act less than morally for their own sake. This practically comes at a condition, because only those without a good standing need to act immorally as any privileged enough to not have to act improperly simply shouldn’t. Ultimately, being good in the worst times I believe means doing the most good as you can while living contently.
3 thoughts on “Being Moral in a Uncaring World”
I think this is a really interesting post, especially your conclusion. I think it brings up the question though, what condition justifies one to act immorally? Although some might be in an uncompromising situation, there is always someone else in an even worse situation than you. I agree with your last sentence about doing the most good you are able.
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Thanks for the reply Annie, and on your point, I think that acting immorally or rather not completely morally is dependent upon the situation and one’s own perspective. Even though I said one should always do as much good as they can, it’s often unclear when and to what extent one should be moral, especially for people in tough circumstances. For example, should a low-income household try to take care of a foster child even though the parents will likely have to work more and harder to care for their child? Or should they just live more comfortably as they are, donate to charities to help foster children, and hope that someone else will care for that foster child? I don’t that this situation is a great example, but nonetheless it demonstrates how each situation doesn’t necessarily have exclusively one moral outcome. That being said, I still think that in either case, one should try to maximize the amount of good that they can do, even if they don’t live in the best circumstances. Thanks again Annie, and good luck with your college applications!
I think one should be somewhat morally flexible but I think there is a danger in being too willing to compromise one’s morals for the sake of survival, and it is definitely dangerous to compromise one’s morales for the sake of contentment. Doing what is right while it is easy but abandoning those principles when it is hard, is not moral. Maybe it shows my privilege or naivete, but I think that it is better to live a hard but moral life, than an easier but immoral life.