We often talk about doing what’s right, about standing firm in our principles.
But that’s often easier said than done.
Because it’s not always clear what the right thing to do is.
Often there’s more than one correct course of action.
And we have to choose between different values and principles that are important to us.
In fact, this is exactly the sort of dilemma that I am struggling with right now.
Let me set the stage.
I organize a weekly volleyball group of locals and expats in Bogota, Colombia.
The group is organized via Internations, a global organization that has events and activities for locals and expats in large cities throughout the world.
The activities are organized by volunteers like myself and my two co-organizers for the volleyball group.
In order to attend these activities, one has to purchase a membership with Internations – called an Albatross membership.
(Internations also gives Albatross memberships for free to people like myself who organize events for them.)
People who create a profile on Internations but haven’t purchased an Albatross membership can’t see where and when the activities take place.
Which means that without an Albatross membership, it’s impossible to attend the events since most groups vary the time, day, and location of their events.
Our volleyball group, however, is different: we play at the same time and place every Saturday.
So anyone who has attended one of our events knows where and when we play volleyball.
Which creates a problem when someone lets their Albatross membership expire.
And that is exactly what has happened recently in our group.
It started a few months ago with someone I’ll call John.
John is a long-time member of our group and well-liked by the other members.
He previously had an Albatross membership with Internations because, like myself, he was a co-organizer of an Internations group in Bogota (a potluck dinner group).
But he resigned as co-organizer a few months ago and lost his Albatross membership.
And yet he continues to come to our volleyball events.
He could, of course, purchase an Albatross membership as almost everyone else in the group does.
But several months have passed and he hasn’t done so.
When I made some inquiries about what was going on I was told that John doesn’t like being on social networks.
This struck me as a lame excuse since 1) Internations isn’t a social network. 2) John already has a profile on Internations from his time as a group co-organizer, and 3) It literally takes less than one minute a week to sign-up for our weekly volleyball events.
But when I discussed this issue with my co-organizers their response was “We don’t care if John has an Albatross membership or not. He is our friend and he can come to our events for as long as he wants”.
In my opinion, this is clearly wrong and clearly unfair to all the other members who are paying to have access to the Internations events.
At the time, through, I decided not to do anything because I didn’t want to create drama and conflict in the group.
But lately the issue has become much more complicated.
About 6 weeks ago, another long-time member stopped attending our events.
Out of curiosity, I looked at his profile the other day and he also no longer has an Albatross membership.
So here we have two people, neither with a paying membership.
One is doing the right thing and not attending our events, the other isn’t.
And the one who benefits is the one who isn’t doing the right thing.
But there’s another new twist.
Two weeks ago, a third long-time member showed up at volleyball without reserving a space in the event.
She had never done that before.
So I took a look at her profile.
And she too no longer has an Albatross membership.
But now things get a bit more complicated.
Based on some information that was shared with me, I believe that she’s having some financial issues and may not be able to afford an Albatross membership at the moment.
Assuming that’s correct, I now have a dilemma.
I certainly don’t want to be the one to tell someone: “Yeah, it sucks to have financial problems. And, by the way, you know how much you love playing volleyball on Saturdays and hanging out with your friends? You can’t do that anymore”.
Would you want to tell someone that???
It would really suck to have financial problems and then be cut off from one of your most important sources of support because of those problems.
Talk about a “double penalty”.
So what is the right thing to do in this situation?
I have absolutely no idea.
It’s easy to say that “the rules are the rules” and everyone has to abide by them.
And it’s clearly unfair that some people are paying for access to our volleyball events and others aren’t, particularly when there are limited spaces at our events.
But what about kindness?
What about compassion towards someone who might be struggling?
Don’t those matter as well???
I know they do for me.
At some point, I will need to make a decision about how to handle this situation.
I know whatever decision I make won’t be “the right thing”.
It will be both right and wrong…right for some people, wrong for others.
Some people will benefit from the decision, others will be hurt from it.
And that’s how life often is.
Decisions are rarely simple.
We often have to make them in the face of massive uncertainty about the consequences and knowing that at least some people will be harmed by our decisions.
It’s hard, maybe impossible, to make decisions that are BOTH kind and compassionate AND fair and just to everyone.
Many times there is no “right” decision, just different options with different consequences.
But what we CAN do is treat ourselves with kindness once we’ve made a decision, knowing that we did the best we could in a difficult situation.
Sometimes that’s the best that we can do…