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What would you do?

Published July 25. 2015 09:00AM

Imagine this.

A runaway train is hurtling down the track. If it is not stopped, it will kill five people who are tied down to the track just ahead. You can save the five people and stop the train by pushing a man standing next to you onto the track. You have two choices only. Do nothing and the train kills the five people. Push the man to his death and you stop the train, but that makes you a murderer.

Many say they would push the man. It's a simple matter of math and the murder is justified. Sacrifice one to save five. Now let's change the scenario a bit.

What If you had just seen this man that's standing next to you save a little boy from being killed by the train? Do you still push him?

American screenwriter Budd Schulberg had said that living with a conscience is like driving a car with the brakes on. If that's the case, then I would need new brakes before I get to the end of my street.

I would not push the good Samaritan described above, but then I wouldn't be able to sleep again knowing I let five people die.

Every day we are faced with moral dilemmas, but thankfully not as dramatic as the runaway train. I wonder about what determines our level of conscience. Parents obviously help shape a child's moral compass, but I continue to be perplexed why some people can intentionally harm others seemingly without feeling guilty.

Then there is a wide range of what we think is right or wrong. My neighbor thinks it's OK to hit his child on the backside when he misbehaves, but my cousin feels any physical discipline is wrong.

Mike says that when his wife asks if she looks fat in a certain dress, he will lie and say no, while Bill will say, "It doesn't do your figure any favors."

The voice in your head that says, "You did the right thing," might not erase the thought that you made the wrong decision.

Now if someone else says you did the right thing, that comforting support is better at easing the conscience, especially if you're 10 years old and hungry. After walking out of a store with a stolen candy bar, your buddy Tommy tells you you did the right thing. Of course, he wants half for himself.

Ultimately, our conscience, or lack thereof, is something we have to live with every day. An irate parent curses loudly at a Little League baseball coach in front of 40 fans and 30 10-year-old kids because the coach didn't start the parent's kid for a lack of hustle.

An altercation between the parent and the coach is about to break out. Should someone step up to help diffuse the situation?

There's my friend who says that he won't get involved in somebody else's problem. First I think that makes sense because you also put yourself in harm's way. Then I think that we shouldn't be teaching our children to turn their heads when they see something wrong. Do the right thing. Set an example. Intercede in the altercation with a calm approach.

A guilty conscience eats away at the mind. Eventually it can even harm the health of the body, too. When I was a kid I lied to my mother about where I was one night, and even though she never found out, I couldn't eat and I had a stomachache for two days. Someone once said a clear conscience is the sign of a bad memory. I need to forget more than I remember.

The other night my 10-year-old son and I discussed a hypothetical moral dilemma. One night I come home and tell him that I just stole a pocketbook off an old lady and inside was $500. I tell my son that I will use the money to buy the family presents. I ask him to promise he won't tell anyone where I got the money.

He looks up at me. "Sorry, Dad, but I'm calling the police on you."

We exchange a fist bump. That's my boy.

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