Monday, March 20, 2006

Opinion: Legal Duty vs. Moral Duty

Diana HollandWhat a lot of buzz in the media and in the community about “legality!” We hear so much information on this topic and don't even understand it all, but as Hispanics, we're expected to be the ready-answer pundits.

“And what do you think about the 'illegals' issue?” the dissheveled cashier at the grocery store asks me anxiously, as she tries at least ten times, unsuccessfully, to scan my tooth brush with the bar code reader.

“I think we ought to think about morality,” I respond briefly, with no intention to start a hurried conversation with someone who knows me only as a frequent customer with a certain Hispanic accent.

In my view, legal duty is what a country, a state or just a group of people considers to be within their law. It is made up of those codes that bring a little order to a community. In this country, those codes are decided by a consensus of sorts, where agreement by the majority is sufficient. So, doing things according to the law that the majority decides on, sounds reasonable, right? “It's all good,” like my brother says when he disengages from conversation to keep from making any waves.

But...what happens when those in the minority, who although they were not in the position to agree with the decisions leading to those laws, continue to live in, or arrive to live in, that same community? How do they happily coexist within the law, without being in agreement with or understanding those codes that purport to bring a little order to the community?

This is where moral duty plays its role. In my opinion, it is the majority’s moral duty to reach out to the minority, in order to facilitate the dialogue to talk about what it is like to be the majority, and what it is like to be the minority. On the other hand, it is the minority’s moral duty to reach out to the majority in order to be educated, informed and, mostly, to come to a certain level of agreement or understanding that will allow us to coexist without so much alienation.

Moral duty doesn't have to be codified to be understood. Simply put, something is either moral or immoral. Moral behavior takes into account the present and the future, at the same time being rooted to the lessons of the past. This is what we learn when we hear, “and the moral of the story is...” Practicing moral behavior with others often requires dedicated, personal relationships.

If a community's majority and minority were to initiate and continue a dialogue about legal duty and moral duty, community life would be easier, even if it’s not "all good."

“Paper or plastic,” the cashier at the grocery store asks me dryly, after she manually enters the bar code for my tooth brush.

As we contemplate our moral duty, we too have choices: one, "paper,” another, “plastic.” However, when we are talking about legal duty, there is only one set of codes and, if these are not mutually understood - as it sometimes happens with the automatic bar code reader at the grocery store - then the majority has to begin that dedicated, personal task.

Diana Holland is a Hispanic columnist, consultant and speaker.

The comments posted here are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the Hispanic Nashville Notebook. Material that should not be attributed to the Hispanic Nashville Notebook is often indicated on this site in green text or in quotes.

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