The Ethical Dilemma: Back To School Drama

The Ethical Dilemma: Back To School Drama 

PTA Tyranny: For several years, since my first child started kindergarten, I’ve been very active in our school’s PTA, and it was really fun. Then it started to feel like a chore, and after yet another meeting where the louder personalities shouted down the meeker ones (guess which kind I am), I decided I’d had enough and quietly resigned from the board. Soon after, an extremely gung-ho member (one of the loudest ones) commanded me to head up a committee. I told her I wasn’t doing that any more. I explained that I was now focusing on chaperoning field trips and working directly with teachers in the classrooms. She was very indignant. She gave me a speech about how I was a quitter, and how we do this “not because we have nothing better to do but because it needs to be done.” I think she and other PTA members are now talking trash about me behind my back. Am I wrong to choose flight over fight?

—PTA Dropout

Dear Dropout,

 As long as you didn’t bail out and leave others to finish a task you’d promised to complete, or there’s no crucial need that no but you can fulfill, or the PTA is not doing something disastrously misguided—your efforts there, while valuable, aren’t indispensable. After all, whenever kids leave the school, so do their parents, and yet PTAs soldier on.

The important thing is you are active in your children’s school, whether your activity is via PTA projects or other ways to be involved and productive. It’s terrific that other parents have such a highly-developed sense of purpose. It’s even nice, in a way, that your withdrawal was protested and that your services are in demand. But it’s inappropriate for anyone to lay a guilt trip on you for choosing other ways to help—or even if you had decided not to help at all any more, after all you’ve already done.

I wouldn’t worry about the person who is upset by your decision or anyone else who may be piling on. They’ll get over it. Look around and you’ll spot other parents who have done the same thing, or who give money instead of time, or who give time but no money, or who do nothing at all, due to lack of time, money, or interest. Volunteering should always be personally rewarding on some level, and never an exercise in masochism. Since the PTA is no longer enjoyable to you, consider yourself a graduate, not a drop-out. 

Time Out: I’m 68 years old and I do not want to get much older. I have two grown children. I’ve been divorced since I was 22. I raised my kids alone, although my family helped me in every way except financially. I have Social Security plus a pension from working for a good company for 25 years. I could be ok, but I hate being old and I have nothing to look forward to except getting even older. I want to die before I’m 70. Isn’t that just common sense? I’m not crazy, am I? Suicide isn’t easy but I know I’ll figure it out.

—Had Enough

Dear Enough,

Unlike religions that often have stern prohibitions against suicide—resulting not only in eternal damnation but also refusal of burial rites in this world—humanism takes no blanket position on suicide, and in many cases is open to it in cases of intractable suffering, be it emotional or physical. Ethically, it’s your choice.

But I wonder why you feel so negative about the next phase of your life. With people increasingly living healthy, full lives well into their 90s and beyond—and studies indicating that many find their best years are the 80s, why do you feel in your 60s that a couple more years is all you can bear? You don’t mention any illness, disability or other problems. You say you have no financial issues. It sounds like you’re depressed. Perhaps, despite your children and supportive family, you are lonely. Perhaps you feel aimless now that you are retired. Perhaps you have a deep dread of growing old and infirm from seeing others suffer long declines or “bad” deaths. Perhaps you feel no one cares whether you are alive or will miss you when you’re gone.

Please seek professional help. Speak to a mental health therapist about your negative attitude toward continuing life, and get a medical checkup to make sure you don’t have an underlying physical syndrome, such as a metabolic imbalance or an undiagnosed disease, that’s making you feel apathetic and pessimistic. Also reach out to your family. Consider how they would feel if you opted out prematurely. Are you harboring feelings of resentment toward them? Look into getting involved in activities that you would enjoy and that would benefit from your participation (e.g., volunteering), and with groups and individuals who might provide companionship, support, adventure and a renewed sense of delight and purpose.

Your best decades could very well be ahead of you. Make an effort to cultivate personal meaning and pleasure in your life. You have nothing to lose and much to gain by focusing on the positive instead of negative aspects of the years that lie ahead. Don’t rush into a permanent solution to what may very well be just a temporary problem.