A moral dilemma is when two values challenge one another in a given situation. It is the triage of values where an individual is forced into a catch-22. Whatever he decides, he will be compromising at least one of his core values.
"Can I steal medication from a laboratory to save a life?"- The value of life versus that of stealing.
"Can I lie to someone in order to not hurt their feelings?"- The value of truth versus that of peace.
"Can I murder in order to save many lives?"- The value of life versus many lives.
These are genuine and troubling moral dilemmas. Any decision results in some level of regret and remorse- innocent people will suffer and injustice will result. Fairness and justice cannot co-exist within a moral dilemma. The resultant decision necessitates that result will, by definition, be partially unfair and immoral- this is no win-win answer.
We live, however, in a time where people find themselves faced with a new kind of dilemma. Unlike the moral dilemmas cited above, people are now struggling with issues of compromising their personal happiness or defaulting on another value.
"If I already have made a commitment and something better comes up, is it OK to cancel my first arrangement?"- My happiness versus responsibility for earlier commitments.
"If I can cheat on an exam without getting caught is it OK?"- My happiness/success versus being an honest person.
"Can I lie to get myself out of trouble?" - Saving myself versus telling the truth.
These questions were once issues of right and wrong, but now that have been given an elevated status of becoming "moral dilemmas".
I sincerely do not think that people are trivialising these issues nor do I think that they are self-rationalising and justifying their positions- I truly believe that these 'dilemmas' genuinely trouble people and keep them up at night.
The problem is that 'my happiness' has become a value on par with all other 'altruistic' values.
Whether it is the media, literature or just social changes; happiness has become not only an important goal in people's existence, it has become the number one factor in our lives. Almost anything can be justified if it brings happiness.
Purpose, the feeling of actively contributing to the betterment of the world, and meaning, the sense of being a positive influence in other people's lives, have been relegated down the ladder.
The world is giving birth to a new generation of fanaticism and fundamentalism, a calling in contradistinction to most Westerners hedonistic ambitions. These people are rejecting the self-fulfilment and pleasure and are embracing a higher calling. A calling that demands the sacrifice of personal ambitions and happiness for the goal of doing what's right. They demand adherence to their values, even at pain of death- happiness isn't sought or even valued.
But there must be a middle, moderate, position. One that can restore the hierarchy of values to their former glory. Where happiness is looked to as a by-product of a life well-lived, with meaning and purpose rather than a goal to be pursued.
Our values need not be to the exclusion of all others, tolerance is a value as well, but the core of our argument should be that we are striving for enduring values that extend beyond us and our personal ambitions.