Tag Archives: moral responsibility

Why we fail to act (sins of complicity)

In the wake of the Ft. Hood massacre we are now hearing evidence of a very troubled man–trouble that it appears many observed over the last few years of the Maj. General’s life. Some of his former teachers and supervisors took note of his strange behavior, his loner tendencies, his rages. They even mused about his possible move into psychosis. Despite these notations, they moved him on to a place they thought (so the reporting is going) he would not get into trouble. In the words of one person, where his dangerousness would be limited by the number of mental health professionals serving alongside him.

Lest we pick on the military alone, we could level charges of ignoring problems on those around Madoff, the mortgage crisis, and any other recent scandal.

The truth is this: we see things that need our attention; our voice. And yet, we often fail to act. Why? Here are some reasons:

  1. We’re not sure what we are seeing or feeling. We have trouble adding up the problem
  2. We don’t want to make a mistake and look foolish
  3. We hesitate due to empathy
  4. We don’t want to intrude on the rights of others
  5. We assume someone else is more responsible
  6. We don’t want to make waves, we want to avoid conflict
  7. We think the person we are concerned about it will take care of it on their own
  8. We deem the situation not relating to our own interests
  9. We underestimate that Satan intends to deceive us into doing nothing so that evil may reign

I’ve had a couple of experiences where I didn’t act and should have–a client “playing” around with life threatening behaviors, a friend beginning an emotional affair with someone not her husband. After the fact, everything looks clear and obvious. Duh, hospitalize the client, confront the friend. And yet in both cases I acted but more slowly than I should. If there is one big reason: I think things were fine in the past and so they will be fine in the future, and so I fail to adequately assess the present.



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Filed under Cognitive biases, counseling, Cultural Anthropology, Psychology, Uncategorized

Thinking about moral responsibility and agency in TBI

Tonight I will assigned my Counseling & Physiology students a response paper to the following case study. As you read this fictional case, consider how you might answer these two questions:

  1. What are the spiritual issues in this case and how do you consider Tim’s limitations in considering these spiritual issues? What is his personal accountability in light of his functional limitations and injury?
  2. How might you advise Tim’s wife and pastor as they struggle to understand and respond to Tim’s inappropriate behavior?

Tim is a 34-year-old, married man and deacon in his church. Prior to a serious car accident 2 years ago, Tim was a successful general contractor generating income over $200,000 a year. 2 years ago, Tim suffered a traumatic brain injury when a drunk driver, traveling at a very high rate of speed, slammed into his vehicle. Damage to his brain was located in the frontal and temporal lobes. Tim spent a total of six months in the hospital and in rehab. Initially, He was in a coma for 3 weeks and not expected to recover. However, he did emerge from unconsciousness and with rehab regained his capacities to walk and talk. His memory is mostly intact, missing only the week prior to the accident and the five weeks post accident. He seems to be able to form new memories but complains that he has to write everything down or he will forget tasks. He also complains that it is hard for him to find words. His friends notice that his speech is slower now. He is oriented to person, place, and time.

Tim’s wife and pastor ask you to meet with him. Tim complies. In session he is affable, talkative, but unsure why others think he needs counseling. He notes that he works hard every day, uses his daily contacts in business to talk about God’s miraculous work in his life. He admits that he smokes now and should quit but that shouldn’t be reason enough to warrant counseling. He signs a release to talk to his wife and pastor.

You learn from his wife that Tim has numerous problems that did not exist prior to the accident. Most notably: he doesn’t complete work; fails to bill clients properly; seems to over-estimate what he can complete; work done does not meet his pre-accident quality; he is easily angered and even aggressive; he curses and smokes 2-3 packs per day (none prior to accident); he drinks; he spends beyond his means; he has periods of deep depression; he engages in foul language about sex; is demanding of sexual activity with his wife (but cannot perform since the accident); he flirts with other women.

Tim refuses to return for further appointments. His wife and pastor come to you to discuss options and how to think about Tim’s behavior. The church board has removed Tim from his diaconal position this week and is likely to initiate church discipline after it was discovered that he made a sexual comment to an 18-year-old girl (he commented (spoke admiringly) about her breast size).


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, Christianity, counseling skills, Psychology, Relationships, teaching counseling