Questionable Intentions

These days, all one has to do is to suggest that they and others are working for the greater public good and mention that everyone around the table has the best of intentions, and this appears to be enough to absolve them and everyone else who might be in agreement from any possible unforeseen and unintended or adverse consequences.

This is true even when certain agendas and motivations are actively at play, including potential political and/or financial ones, oftentimes going unnoticed, unstated, understated or ignored.

Whether it be within various levels of government, legal, business, advocacy, non-profit or political circles or otherwise society at large, it makes one wonder whether higher ethical standards are in place and are being properly practiced and enforced when, how and where it counts.

From my perspective as a layperson, sometimes it can seem that ethics and morals have been completely tossed overboard in favor of whatever some of those in power have decided is best for the rest of us, not to mention being better and possibly more profitable for either or both them or for those they are employed by or are aligned and associated with.

When it comes to grave and pressing societal or personal dilemmas and seeking solutions to these, specifically, no matter what the supposed problem(s) or causation(s) might be and whomever might be involved, and no matter how complex the nature, the standard for addressing these matters should be, first and foremost, not to do harm.

It is one thing to know and to recite, however, it is yet another thing to put these types of essential ethics and morals into meaningful as well as enduring practice.

One of the ways to not do harm in the first place is never to treat any person involved as being the problem and therefore as an object, as if they were less than human, whom others should be doing something to or about.

Throughout the history of humankind, again from the perspective of a layperson, it rarely — if ever — has done human society much, if any, good to institutionalize societal or personal problems and resulting dilemma(s) or supposed solutions to these.

Whatever supposed betterment or good might be perceived as resulting is usually rather short lived as well as overshadowed by even worse problems eventually arising from unforeseen unintended and adverse consequences.

For example, even when one might mean well in attempting to come to the aid of someone experiencing a personal crisis no matter what the nature or cause and in terms of homelessness as well as related matters either in general (read: systemic) terms or on an individual basis; when a person is treated in a fashion that involves using coercion or force in one manner or another, whether it be enforcing the will of someone else or the state (read: government, including at the municipal level) against someone, this quickly evolves into a dehumanizing process for all parties involved, most particularly for the person on the receiving end.

The fact is when people are treated with empathy, dignity and respect as well as making sure their choices — or otherwise what they might have wanted if they could make their own choices — are the priorities adhered to when decisions are being made about how to proceed, there is less of a risk and danger of doing harm.

The standard and top priorities concerning the same certainly should never be about ease or expediency, nor about the needs of a particular system.

Rather, what should matter and be a high priority are those within our community who are most in need, especially those whom everyone else has given up on, sometimes including the person themselves. This requires honoring as well as respecting their dignity and humanity as well as their stated requests for vital assistance (within reason). 

In this case, it is imperative to ensure that no one has to resort to living unhoused outdoors because they have no other available option (unless they truly choose to do so) and that they have decent, safe, permanent and affordable housing within which to live, thrive and flourish.

Call this socialism if one chooses, however, this is not something to be ashamed of, nor ridiculed about; particularly not when pursuing social equity as well as social justice on behalf of either others who are most in need within our society or oneself.

Morgan W. Brown is a writer and political observer as well as an activist and advocate residing in Montpelier. He formerly served on the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force as well as, several years ago, the Vermont Council on Homelessness.