Social Question

nikipedia's avatar

When do you make something your business?

Asked by nikipedia (27300 points ) June 11th, 2011

I am in a small and puzzled minority on this question about whether to disclose information about another person’s infidelity.

The majority viewpoint seems to be that even though the wronged party deserves to know the truth, since the asker wasn’t the one who actually did the cheating, she has no right to tell another person’s secret.

I really can’t wrap my head around this, so I’m wondering about other scenarios:

(1) If you knew that someone had engaged in a criminal act that caused harm to another person (e.g., a hit and run accident), would that be your business?

(2) If you knew that someone had engaged in a criminal act that didn’t harm anyone else (e.g., illegal file sharing or underage drinking), would that be your business?

(3) Can you think of any act that is legal, but harms someone else, that you would consider your business? Suppose, for instance, a good friend’s husband is an alcoholic, and you learn somehow that he is drinking again. Would you tell your friend, his wife?

(4) Would it be your business if the information being withheld was positive (e.g., you know someone has a winning lotto ticket, and that person happened to miss the lotto numbers)?

If you just want to give yes/no answers that would be interesting, but I’m especially interested in hearing your reasoning, and whether you think it’s consistent with the cheating question.

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11 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

When I consider getting involved, I consider WHY it is that I’m getting involved and whether it would actually help what’s going on. Generally, people deserve to know the truth but having that truth be told by someone outside the family (as was the case in the question) might not: 1) actually have the person believe it 2) bring about a better life. If I knew that a person engaged in an activity that harmed another and they told me, I’d go to the police. If I knew that a person engaged in an activity that harmed themselves, I’d take more time to consider the situation – the police, our legal system, etc aren’t always the best ‘friends’ to go to, whatsoever. If I knew that a good friend, for example, was being beaten repeatedly, I’d provide her with a safe house, resources and organizations that I know help but wouldn’t put her in any more danger by inserting myself into their household since I know things aren’t black and white and and sometimes truth begets even more violence. Every situation is touch and go, I trust my guts and my moral compass. I know when I feel there is flexibility and when there isn’t.

everephebe's avatar

Only when it’s profitable.
(When it won’t bite you in the ass.)

funkdaddy's avatar

1) Yes, I’ve witnessed a hit and run, I chased the guy down and waited for the police to show, it sucked throughout but there wasn’t another way to make sure the person that was rear ended wasn’t further harmed by not being able to pay for the damage to their car. They didn’t do anything wrong, and the guy who hit them and decided to leave did, they couldn’t chase him and I could.

2) Nope, nothing good comes of making it my business.

3) If I had to approach anyone, it would be him. He needs to make the decision from there because he’s most affected by it. Legal or illegal really doesn’t come in to it.

4) Of course I’d let someone know they’d won the lotto, less extreme examples of the same might be if I knew the answer to a question I overheard (“where can I find a payphone around here” for example) or returning something I witnessed someone drop. There’s no harm.

I try to balance out whether something does more good or more harm. If harm just HAS to be done, like in the first example, I only jump in if I’m the best qualified, or if I have the most to gain or lose from a situation.

I wouldn’t speak up in the question you linked to because I have far too little at stake in that situation compared to the others involved. That is more definitely not “my business”, it’s theirs. They need to work it out.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

In cases of very mild harm, unless I think I can actually do substantial good, it’s none of my business. In cases of harmless/victimless issues, it’s definitely none of my business – and even more than it’s none of my business, I’m in no position to judge. If you’re surfing the internet at work, or downloading music from torrents, or buying your medication from Canada, or having unsafe sex, even if I felt it was my business, I can’t get over how insanely hypocritical it would be for me and anyone else short of Mother Teresa to lecture you.

Coloma's avatar

Anything that has life altering consequences to another, I would reveal what I knew.

Basic ‘live & let live,’ as in, not offering my opinions or advice on how others conduct their lives, short of the above, I mind my own biz.

If a very close friend, I might, share some alternative thinking on a situation they presented me with.

This goes for my own daughter as well.

I love her dearly but, she knows I wouldn’t hand her a hall pass for poor behavior.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Too many people want to be mamby pampy when it comes to getting involved. I put myself in the shoe of the person being dooped and ask if it were a friend of mine who know someone we know cheated me on a car deal, killed my pet, or something and they didn’t tell me, they sat on it how would I feel? If I feel I was let down by them or even marginalized because they didn’t tell me I would assume that is how they would view my silence.

In the case of #1 I think it is everyone’s business to make sure the hit and run driver is brought to light. The person he/she hit may need info about it to help with their insurance claim at the least. Second if the person is allowed to slide they will think nothing of taking off should they hit someone or something again.

Case #2 pirating and underage drinking. I would talk to the person pirating themselves and tell them what legal entanglements should they be discovered and the business want to go after them. Underage drinking if it were my kid I would want to know. I certainly want to know before he becomes a jr. alcoholic. If I know he is boozing it up I can take measures before it gets more out of hand.

Case #3, if someone’s husband or wife was drinking or smoking again I might hint to the spouse they might check up on their mate but not rat them out straight off. If it is drinking and he maybe driving the kids around then I am more likely to be more direct that whoever fell off the wagon.

Case #4 since you have 6 months to claim a ticket I am sure they would discover it even if I said nothing. If I thought the person would toss or lose the ticket or someone who knew it was a winner was trying to hoodwink the ticked away from the owner I would let them know to check and safeguard their ticket until they checked it.

To many people are afraid to get someone else mad even if more damage will occur down the road. I figure if there is a chance I am going to have pig crap on me later when the **** hits the fan, I might as well rip the band-aid off and say it now.

dabbler's avatar

I think the fact that ‘harm’ is repeated in your question a few times means we agree that harm is something at the heart what’s to be considerred. And I think corollaries “benefit” and “obligation” are useful to add.
I think it’s important to separate the harm of the original outrageous act/event from the potential harm of making the issue your business.
1) [yes] A hit-and-run is a clear case of a social obligation, one would expect no less of one’s fellows.
2) [no] The harm of the original act is petty, the potential harm of making it your business is big.
3)[probably not] I would be wary of not having enough facts and not knowing the points of view of all parties concerned to understand what harm is being done.
If there is harm being done what are the real alternatives, are they better?
What are the consequences of intervention? What is going to be the goal and the costs?
4)[yes] The “benefit” factor tips the scale. Aggregate benefit of all parties involved.
And you set a good example for anyone else to let You know if you have overlooked treasures. Even if you don’t get a ‘reward’ for tipping the person off to their good fortune, they will probably think kindly of you going forward and take you sailing on their yacht.

Coloma's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central

My sentiments exactly! :-)

Bellatrix's avatar

Nothing in life is black and white and there are always those shades of grey that get in the way and make life complicated. I am reminded of the Hippocratic Oath as I write this. The notion that one should cause no harm and that the secrets we learn, should be kept to ourselves. In saying that, there are times when I feel we should share secrets. Those times usually involve the potential for harm to others.

(1) If you knew that someone had engaged in a criminal act that caused harm to another person (e.g., a hit and run accident), would that be your business? I would tell. I would be concerned that person could commit another crime and cause further harm to others.

(2) If you knew that someone had engaged in a criminal act that didn’t harm anyone else (e.g., illegal file sharing or underage drinking), would that be your business? I wouldn’t share the file sharing info. I don’t necessarily approve but I am not sure that anyone is really being harmed. People may not make the profit they believe they deserve, but nobody is being significantly harmed and nobody is at risk of being harmed. I might share the under-aged drinking. It depends on the circumstances. How old was the person, what were the circumstances, what was the risk of harm for the drinker and those with them?

(3) Can you think of any act that is legal, but harms someone else, that you would consider your business? Suppose, for instance, a good friend’s husband is an alcoholic, and you learn somehow that he is drinking again. Would you tell your friend, his wife? In such a case, I would speak to the alcoholic and ask them to speak to their wife. If they didn’t, I may tell the wife because again, there is a risk that they or their family could be hurt by this person’s drinking.

(4) Would it be your business if the information being withheld was positive (e.g., you know someone has a winning lotto ticket, and that person happened to miss the lotto numbers)? I can’t see how anyone would be harmed by telling Uncle Jim, I think he has a winning ticket. I wouldn’t tell anyone else though because that could put Uncle Jim at risk.

For me, it all comes down to the level of harm my telling could cause.

marinelife's avatar

I would definitely tell if there was a criminal act involved or harm could ensue to someone else if I did not tell.

For me, that would cover 1 and 2 except for the file sharing, which I would disapprove of, but probably not tell about.

3. The specific example that you named I would tell because harm could ensue to the family of the alcoholic or to others especially if he was driving.

In the case of 3 as it relates to the earlier question, I would not tell because I could not be sure that I was not doing more harm than good.

4. In the case of 4, why not tell?

Facade's avatar

When it happens in my presence it becomes my business; I’d feel like it’d be my duty to help make things right. I have a deep caring for others, almost to a fault. I can’t knowingly let people be hurt.

(1) If you knew that someone had engaged in a criminal act that caused harm to another person (e.g., a hit and run accident), would that be your business? Yes; someone was hurt, and I have knowledge of it.

(2) If you knew that someone had engaged in a criminal act that didn’t harm anyone else (e.g., illegal file sharing or underage drinking), would that be your business? I’m not a fan of following laws just because, so no; no one was hurt.

(3) Can you think of any act that is legal, but harms someone else, that you would consider your business? Suppose, for instance, a good friend’s husband is an alcoholic, and you learn somehow that he is drinking again. Would you tell your friend, his wife? I’d inform the people involved about what’s going on so that they aren’t hurt.

(4) Would it be your business if the information being withheld was positive (e.g., you know someone has a winning lotto ticket, and that person happened to miss the lotto numbers)? Of course. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to know good news.

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