Instead of an ethical dilemma posed by coronavirus how about something that is much more mundane and common. Can you cancel if you want to meet someone else?
The backstory #1
Let me tell you the backstory to this post. I put a request online looking for other parents with small children who are not in daycare so we could meet up for a playdate or walk through the park. The little ones could play together and the grown-ups could talk because organized playgroups and such are all on hold right now due to government restrictions.
One mother was interested and we exchanged messages and made a date for an afternoon. Barely two hours before we were supposed to meet she canceled citing the inclement weather and her not feeling up to it. Well alright it was grey and slightly wet and everyone cancels from time to time. So we rescheduled to another day the same week. My daughter of course was distraught and I had to explain to her that she would not meet new people today. Nevertheless we went to the exact same playground and had a coffee and croissant despite the mediocre weather.
The same evening she asked me if we could reschedule again. Another parent canceled last week due to their kid being sick and asked if they had time on the particular day we had made plans for. She would like to meet them because her son likes their kid so much. But if I insist she will just make another date with them and meet us.
Why we should keep promises but we can also break them.
By setting a date with me the both of us made a promise to keep a certain time slot available for each other. Not only that I also made a promise to my daughter that she would have a playdate and I also gave my wife time off so she could do something for herself.
I said it already but human beings are independent ends in themselves. A rational human recognizes this in his fellow and would therefore need to treat others as such. That means not as tools, means to an end or things to consume but as self-contained, individual humans with feelings, goals, needs, thoughts, agency and everyone else that makes us human.
So a rational human being could not possibly want that promises can be broken at will. Of course sometimes circumstances change, things happen, people get sick and we need to cancel or break a promise. That is why there are universally accepted reasons that allow one to cancel granted that they are accompanied by an honest apology.
I want to meet someone else
Her reason was that she wanted to meet someone else and their child. The circumstances of why and how really do not matter in this case. We are not talking about the dying grandmother or the uncle from overseas who only visits once a year. Intuitively we know this is wrong. She made a promise and she is not keeping it not because of circumstances that make it impossible to keep it but because a better opportunity came up.
That is why she did not cancel outright but instead gave me the opportunity to agree to her cancellation or to insist on our set date. But that just puts me in an awkward position. Now I have to decide and be responsible for all the repercussions. If I insist she needs to say no the other parent but will use me as an excuse. Maybe we meet and her son gets grumpy because he wanted to see the other playfriend. Maybe she gets irritated because I insisted on her promise? Or I reschedule with her and have to break my promise to my child and wife again.
See her question was really not a question at all. She had already decided that she rather wants to meet the other parent than me. If not why would she even asked me something like that? Well she asked so that I would accede to her broken promise and she would not have to suffer the awkwardness and maybe shame of cancelling again.
The backstory #2
So I told her that I now have a bad feeling about meeting her and her son at all. She told me she does not understand why so I explained to her that she cancelled two times and without knowing her this is a red flag for me. It shows a lack of respect for me and my daughter. She retorted that in her experience as a mother (oh boy) one needs to be flexible and she was “just asking”. I should have stopped here but lately I tend to press my points with people and I have very little patience for bullshit. I made the argument I laid out before and told her I am no longer interested in having our families meet. I wished her farewell.
Then I got a long winded explanation. To make it short it turned out her kid actually went to daycare but whenever they wanted to visit his grandparents they would quarantine their son at home for two weeks out of fear that he could infect them with COVID19. But she thought it important to let him have a maximum of two “social contacts” (her words) for those times and this is where me my and daughter would have come in.
I actually felt used for her needs and her compulsions about when and how she wants social contact for her child. Her message contained a few more red flags I do not want to go into*. I told her that I feel somewhat fooled by her, I was looking for parents and children outside of daycare for a reason and her behavior was selfish and disrespectful. I said my farewell (again) and wished her all the best for the future anyway. She wrote another defensive message after which I felt I had to block her.
Confrontation is sometimes fruitful
Why I am telling you the last part about me confronting her. I could have just said I am no longer interested and left it at that. Let’s go back to the argument that we have to accept and respect each other as rational individuals if we ever want to be treated as such. If I am being treated disrespectful or as a means, something to use and dispose of whenever it is convenient, is it not my duty to confront the other about it? If not to change them but at least to make my boundary as an individual human being clear to others.
Not only this but respecting myself demands that I confront people about such things. I would disrespect myself in the same way that the other person does if I would just stay silent and disengage. Also confronting such people might just make them think about their behavior. Is this not a worthwhile goal?
Of course my wife would just say I am a difficult person with high standards and she is probably right about it too 😉 Life is too short to waste it on people who lack respect and there are many worthwhile and respectful people out there.
*Her kid went to daycare and had literally no friends there. I wonder why.