Last week I went to a rally to protest a series of raids by ICE in my city. The rally turned into an unplanned march through the streets, and I had to make two quick decisions: first, whether to join the march, and second, whether to remain in the street when the police started to give warnings.
When the march started and I had to decide whether or not to join, I had the following thoughts:
- Shit, are we going to get arrested for this?
- There’s several hundred of us, they probably won’t arrest us.
- But it’s illegal, so we *could* be arrested. What would happen if I did?
- I just got arrested for civil disobedience a few weeks ago, would there be extra consequences because of that?
- Maybe, but there’d be *less* consequences because I’m white and a woman and a citizen and all my family are citizens.
- And they’re probably not going to arrest people anyway.
- Okay, let’s do this.
We marched for about thirty minutes, to the location where the raids had taken place, and then we stayed in the street. At one point, the police started to give warnings, and the leaders of the protest told anyone who didn’t want to risk arrest to move to the sidewalk.
- Okay, they really might arrest us.
- There are still a lot of us though. And the more of us stay in the street the less likely they are to arrest any of us. And I’m still way less vulnerable than a lot of the people here.
- But I haven’t even told anyone I might be arrested. I have no plan for this.
- There will be other times to risk arrest later, when I’ve had a chance to research and plan. It’s not selfish to want to be prepared.
So I got up on the sidewalk. A lot of people stayed in the street, and no one ended up getting arrested.
I do feel a little bad that I didn’t stay in the street and risk arrest, but I think it was a reasonable decision. The context changed, and my actions changed, but my values stayed the same, and I stayed consistent with them.
There’s no one set of rules that can govern all of our decisions. There’s no “right choice”, only choices that are better or worse than others, and often you don’t even know what’s better or what’s worse until everything’s over.
One of my favorite fictional characters is Chidi Anagonye from The Good Place. Chidi has severe anxiety about making morally good decisions and I identify with him so much. I mean, my job used to be to stick people inside of magnets and give them moral dilemmas, of course I identify with Chidi. But his approach to morality is unhealthy. He’s obsessed with making the right decision, when the right decision doesn’t exist. His desire to be good actually makes him do less good.
I’m not always going to make the best decision, but I can be thoughtful about the decisions I do make. There will always be room to criticize, but I can learn from self-reflection and from the feedback of others without thinking that a better person would have done something different.