Early next year, I will have bariatric surgery. My surgeon has told me that my initial weight loss will be significant and very noticeable. What is my obligation to share the reason for my future weight loss with people outside my family and close friends?
I am not ashamed of having the operation, and I will not lie and say I experienced some sort of miracle wherein diets and exercise suddenly started to work for me. When I was pregnant, however, people seemed unable to resist commenting on my size. (“You’re huge!” and “Are you sure it’s not twins?”) This experience has put me on guard; I don’t feel I owe colleagues and strangers answers about my health or my body. But, for instance, my boss and I work together very closely, though I do my best to maintain personal boundaries. Do I owe her an explanation for why I will take a period of sick leave and thereafter look quite different? How do I negotiate the line between the truth of my weight loss and the truth of “it’s none of your business”? Name Withheld
I agree that you have no obligation to explain to anyone what’s happening. It’s your body. Still, people in your life, including colleagues, may want reassurance that you’re OK. Sudden substantial weight loss can be a sign of disease.
It would be courteous to assure people who care about you that they don’t have to worry. If they ask, you can let them know that you’re well and that the weight loss is intended; you can even signal — if you’re comfortable doing so — that it’s a result of a medical intervention, while also signaling that you’re not eager to discuss it. (“The wonders of modern medicine. Next subject?”) Personal boundaries are valuable, but relationships among human beings are seldom purely transactional, and sometimes it’s hard to harmonize privacy with caring and curiosity.
My mother-in-law has always had poor impulse control, speaking without considering the consequences of how her statements might affect others. In addition, she has been racist and antisemitic for years. Now she has medical issues, including a form of dementia, and she needs care in order to stay in her home. Her lack of impulse control and abhorrent language have only gotten worse.
My husband and I are torn about how to address this with her home-care service. We want her to have the best help so that she can stay in her home as long as possible, as is her preference. But we don’t want to subject home-health-care workers to verbal abuse. We also feel strongly as a matter of principle that acceding to racist or discriminatory behavior serves to endorse and perpetuate that behavior. Should we stay silent, hoping that whoever is assigned her care is acceptable or superhuman in their tolerance, or should we discuss this with the agency? Name Withheld
Do tell the agency in advance about your mother-in-law’s needs and propensities; they won’t stay secret for long. The agency and its employees can make decisions that they consider appropriate for such a patient. I assume that before your mother-in-law had dementia, you protested when she said abhorrent things. There’s no reason to stop doing that, and you can tell the helpers that they should feel free to express their objections, too. Bear in mind that many professional caregivers will have training and experience when it comes to the inappropriate verbal and physical behaviors that certain patients with dementia can be prone to. That a caregiver won’t have known her before may have advantages. Offensive remarks are easier to deal with when taken to be a sign of someone’s condition, not of her character.
In my work as an immigration-policy analyst, I often hear, by email or telephone, from a sad group of U.S. citizens. They report having been tricked into marriages with noncitizens who were only after green cards. The noncitizen, in all cases, has broken off the marriage. The citizens are heartbroken and, often, financially broken. These citizens are routinely much older and, I suspect, less marriageable than their noncitizen partners. Sometimes the noncitizens claim (falsely, the citizens say) that they have been abused by the citizens; this usually results in a green card for the noncitizen, who becomes a successful “self-petitioned” immediate relative of the citizen. Often the citizen tells me that it actually is the noncitizen who has beaten them, ignored “stay-away orders” and/or broken other laws. Should I bring these seemingly illegal acts to the attention of law-enforcement officials, even though I have only one side of the dispute? David S. North, Arlington, Va.
The exploitation you’re describing is obviously wrong, even if the inequitable circumstances that prompt the wrongdoing are also morally wrong. But these are cases in which authorities have already reviewed the evidence and decided that an applicant is eligible for permanent residency; it isn’t apparent why they should revisit their determinations on the word of a third party who has no independent access to the facts.
The self-petitioning provision you refer to has a compelling rationale. Noncitizens who are victims of domestic violence or cruelty can be particularly vulnerable: They may not know English or be familiar with American laws, and they may fear deportation if they seek help. But the authorities are well aware that the system can be abused. While these petitions have substantially increased in the past several years, so has the number flagged as potentially fraudulent. The Government Accountability Office, which conducts audits and evaluations for Congress, has asked the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to develop an anti-fraud strategy, and the agency has undertaken to do so. The objective is to try to protect victims of abuse without encouraging wrongful claims against the innocent — no easy thing to calibrate. The mills of bureaucracy grind slowly, but they do grind.
What you can do, though, is to make sure that your correspondents seek assistance from law enforcement if they are being assaulted. Nothing prohibits the authorities from investigating if the victims themselves are able to report evidence of their mistreatment.
I wrote a book and self-published it through Amazon, which lets the author mask that fact by listing a faux publisher on the title page. My first question is whether using the identification of a faux publisher is ethical. My second one concerns the following incident. In a local bookstore I inquired about leaving some copies of my book on consignment. The owner agreed. As I was leaving, he asked who my publisher was. Knowing that some bookstores don’t like to sell self-published books, I named my faux publisher. Was my answer ethical? Name Withheld
Vast numbers of self-published books appear each year, often ornamented with the names of fanciful presses. The practice isn’t really troubling. Had you chosen a vanity publisher instead, they would have decorated your book with a grand name that, while referring to an actual commercial enterprise, would have been no more or less misleading. We can easily imagine invented names that would be deliberately deceptive: Random Home, Farrah Strauss. But you’re not appropriating the cachet of an existing publishing house.
As for your exchange with the bookstore owner: Had he typed your putative publisher into a search engine (as I’ve just done), he would have immediately seen that it wasn’t a real entity. Anyway, self-published authors are going to be the ones consigning books on their own account. That you hoped to mislead him, though, puts you in the wrong. He may not see a big distinction between Kindle Direct Publishing, vanity presses and publishing outfits so obscure they have never appeared on his inventory lists. But even if he wasn’t seriously misled, he would have reason to wonder about your honesty. A personal inventory might be in order.
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to [email protected]; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)