Morality and legality in everyday life

I know that there are topics that seem just a tad too heavy for a blog like this one. When you get up and click on a blog you usually read for travel tips and advice on living abroad, you don’t expect to come across themes like legal matters and morality. However, these are more present in our lives than we think they are, and we need to talk about them.

Many of us tend to think of laws and rules as rigid and tedious but actually quite straight-forward and useful. The justice system is said and expected to be a well-worked out system with exact guidelines on all matters of life. However, deep down we know that’s not always the case. We’ve all seen or been in a situation where the legal grounds were covered but we still thought “this is just not fair”, right? Those are instances when our moral compass and the way we judge right and wrong does not match what’s legal and illegal. For example, you might have seen the clip of the father of an American girl who got sexually assaulted; in the court room, the father jumped up and tried to attack the assaulter. We all know that physically attacking/assaulting someone is illegal and it will be punished, but a lot of us felt like the father was somehow still right.

Also, just because something is your right (because of legislation) doesn’t mean you’re right. Just because you have the right lawyers who can prove by some hidden paragraph that you’re not doing anything illegal doesn’t mean you’re doing the morally and ethically correct thing. (The topics of ethics and morality are still widely discussed and have various (sometimes scarily different) schools of thought, so a discussion on that could take a while.)

So how come the two things, legality and morality, became so different? The thing is that this difference isn’t new; legality and morality are actually looking at the same things from different angles. Our moral compass is an internal and quite often subjective code that directs our actions – and because of this, it can also be biased. Different people have different opinions and moral codes to live by, based on their social background, their religion, their environment… Therefore, it cannot be used as a universal collection of guidelines, simply because we all have different viewpoints. Legal guidelines such as laws and provisions are, however, elaborately designed by legal experts to make sure they are universally applicable and treat people fairly.

Talking about fair: Lady Justice often appears a blindfolded figure. This is supposed to represent the impartiality of law, showing that in the eyes of justice, factors like status, power and wealth don’t matter. However, is that really so? The billionaire who’s wronged millions can easily pay the best lawyers (or even bribe the judges) to navigate things in his favour, while the father of six who stole his boss’ money from the cash register is nowhere near having the same opportunities. The same thing goes for fines for speeding, for instance. In most countries, fines are a set amount, regardless of who you are (the famous impartiality). But who do you think is going to struggle more paying it, the young jock driving daddy’s Mercedes or the mum rushing home between two shifts to take care of her sick child?

Impartiality is a beautiful thing, but it’s aimed at fostering equality not equity. It is said to give everyone the chance to be judged as a human being, regardless of other factors, but it just isn’t so. We’ve all seen the videos of racist police, sexist judges and simply biased individuals in powerful positions, whether the bias is based on a greater phenomenon (e.g. Islamophobia) or an individual negative experience (“a young kid riding a tricycle took my headphones so all tricycle-riders must be worse than others”). As long as there are people on this Earth, there will always be intentional or unintentional bias. In the light of this, there’s no way justice can be blind, right?

We can turn this thing around though – why should justice be blind? Surely, it should take into account personal circumstances and help people in trouble by judging their situation on an individual basis. Even if we know that something is legally black and white, we can always try to help people out based on our own moral code. In my personal story, I am struggling because of an injury and need to move out of my apartment; unfortunately, my rental agreement states that the lease cannot be terminated before the end of the minimal rental period (which is not yet over). Legally, the landlord has every right to say no to my request to move out; however, he could also try to show empathy by developing an understanding of my situation and being cooperative in working something out. Although legislation doesn’t take any of this into account, we as individuals should be able to use our subjective judgement called morals and make sense of the world around us. It is about time to take that blindfold off and legalise morality and empathy.




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