To see it from your parents’ point of view, imagine you have two children. Your son wants to be treated by a traditional healer who serves a god whom your religion thinks is sinful to honor, and his big sister, who also worships that god, arranges this. She gave your son a treatment that was of no use. Worse, she led him to betray his faith. It would be natural for you to feel resentment.
The point is that for some people, opposing what we know as sensible public health measures is central to their identity, as religion can be. That is deeply unfortunate. But it’s important to understand your parent’s reaction. If you had helped your brother with a fake ID, I suspect, your father would have been mad, but you’d be back on the call. In this case, you showed not only that you disagreed with your parents about their views, but also, more painfully, that you did not trust them to take care of your brother – to fulfill the basic responsibilities of parenthood.
Many people are attracted to an accounting model of morality: add up a row of numbers, determine whether there is a plus or a minus in front of the sum, and move on without regrets. Suppose you have to lie because of personal or public obligations. The moral accountants would assure you: the math works, your conscience is clear, don’t think about it. The greater wisdom lies in both lamenting the deception and understanding why it was justified. With difficult choices, there is no option that is the best in every way. Cohesively, we can feel bad about actions we wouldn’t undo. It speaks well of you, as a loving child and as a caring sibling, that you feel uncomfortable.
I understand why you didn’t just start trying to get your parents to have your brother vaccinated. You have clearly had unsatisfactory conversations with them about these issues and found that they are firmly in the grip of their delusions. Telling them about your intentions in advance would have been respectful, but certainly useless; yes, maybe they took steps to keep your brother out of your hands. But if you hadn’t had a conversation beforehand, I agree, it would have been more respectful to give up once it was done.
So tell your parents that you acted out of love and concern for your brother, but that you understand and regret that you violated their trust. Of course, you also regret that your parents have these seriously wrong views – but you don’t have to say that, because they already know.
Often we are faced with choices where we can reason our way to one clear answer. We can then say that we “comply” with what moral reason dictates. But sometimes complexity overwhelms compliance: we just have to turn inward for guidance and make our decisions. In fact, Chang argues, we become “the authors of our own lives” when we make difficult choices. We decide what we are for – we decide who we are. Helping your younger brother get vaccinated and trying to mend your relationship with your parents are not self-absorbing impulses; they are self-determining.
I write from a not-for-profit Zen center, technically a church in the eyes of the IRS. We had monthly board meetings via Zoom, and one member was drunk. Meetings begin mid-morning and last a maximum of two hours. During that time, the officer drinks from a cup and her speech becomes increasingly slurred. All board members, including the official in question, are members of our church and are all highly regarded. Our Ethics Policy discourages downtown drunkenness, but does not refer to Zoom meetings.