Should I have lied to help my little brother get vaccinated?

To see it from your parents’ perspective, imagine that you have two children. Your son wants to be treated by a traditional healer who serves a god that your religion considers a sin to honor, and his big sister, who also worships that god, arranges for this. She provided treatment for your son that didn’t help. Worse, it caused him to betray his faith. It would be natural for you to feel resentment.

The fact is, for some people, opposing what we know to be sensible public health measures is central to their identity, just as much as religion can be. It is deeply unfortunate. But it’s important to understand your parents’ reaction. If you had helped your brother get a fake ID, I guess your dad might have been crazy, but you’d be on good terms again. In this case, you have shown not only that you disagree with your parents about their opinions, but also, more hurtfully, that you do not trust them to take care of your brother – to s discharge basic parental responsibilities.

Many people are drawn to an accounting model of morality: add up a row of numbers, determine if there is a plus or minus before the sum, and carry on with no regrets. Suppose that due to personal or public obligations, you had to lie. Moral accountants would assure you: the math works, your conscience is pure, don’t think twice. The greatest wisdom is to both regret the deception and understand why it was justified. With tough choices, there is no one option that is best in every way. We can consistently feel bad about actions we wouldn’t undo. It shows you, as a loving child and as a caring brother, that you are uncomfortable.

I understand why you didn’t just start by trying to persuade your parents to let your brother get the shot. You’ve clearly had unrewarding conversations with them about these issues and found that they’re firmly in the grip of their delusions. Telling them of your intentions in advance would have been respectful but surely futile; indeed, they may have taken steps to keep your brother out of your hands. Still, if you hadn’t had a conversation beforehand, I agree it would have been more respectful to tell the truth once it was done.

So tell your parents that you acted out of love and concern for your brother but understand and regret betraying their trust. Of course, you’re also sorry that your parents have such seriously misguided opinions – but you don’t need to say that, because they already know that.

Often we are faced with choices where we can reason our way to a clear answer. We can then say that we “conform” to what moral reason dictates. But sometimes complexity overwhelms conformity: we just need to look inward for guidance and take our decisions into our own hands. In fact, according to Chang, it is when we make difficult choices that we become “the authors of our own lives.” We decide what we are for – we decide who we are. Helping your younger brother get vaccinated and trying to repair his relationship with his parents are not self-cancelling urges; they define themselves.

I write from a non-profit Zen center, technically a church in the eyes of the IRS. We held monthly board meetings via Zoom, and one member attended while intoxicated. Meetings begin mid-morning and last up to two hours. Meanwhile, the officer drinks from a cup and his speech becomes increasingly garbled. All board members, including the officer in question, are members of our church and all are highly valued. Our ethics policy discourages intoxication at the center, but does not refer to Zoom meetings.