My father has a certain… cadence in textual communication.
He sent me an email that included, at the end, the following:
And finally, I am in possession of an envelop that I have been asked to hold. I have never looked into that envelop. As I remember the envelop is to be opened only when the sender of the envelop dies. Now, how’s that for an envelop?
Here is what came out of my brain in response. It’s not quite as polished as I would like in a final draft, but I offer it here as an illustration of what sorts of conversations I have with Dad, which may be enlightening to some… of course, he had a response, but I’m uncertain I have reprint rights 🙂
I’ve been thinking about this sort of envelop since you sent me this mail, and a theoretical conflict of personal ethics and morality has come to my attention.
It seems apparent that anyone who would create such an envelop has included some revelation of such great import that the consequences of disclosure are regarded as either something to be avoided… or, perhaps, that the revelation itself is qualitatively different in the chosen medium; that is to say, the act of disclosure of the revelation has a meaning that is different (and, therefore of less value) than it would coming when the author is corporeally accessible.
Either the revelation is of a disagreeable nature (or, perhaps, of a nature that has no particular implicit connotation in and of itself but will be regarded by the Opener of the envelop as disagreeable due to a quirk or shortcoming of the Opener him/herself)… or the revelation is of an agreeable nature (perhaps itself enhanced, most likely by the interpretation of the Opener, as being of greater value coming from the Departed).
Oh, there is the third possibility one must imagine may occur, that the envelop itself is of no consequence to anyone except merely as a consequence of being; that is to say, the contents of the envelop are of no matter or account, but the presence of the envelop itself and the act of bestowing it upon the Bearer represent a bestowing of trust which is itself of value vis-a-vis the relationship between the Author and the Bearer; in this case, the Opener is largely a cosmetic affair.
Now, the true Purpose of the envelop itself may not be quantified quite so measurably (as it represents some combination of all three of the above possibilities), but in any event we can presuppose that the purpose of the envelop is contained somewhere above, in perhaps a union of multiple purposes and objectives.
As the acceptor of such an envelop, then, one can propose that you are choosing to become an accessory (either before or after the fact, depending upon how one looks at it) to the disclosure of said revelation, and thus must bear some of the responsibility for the consequences of such revelation.
Is this an acceptable burden for a man of honor? To what extent does your obligation to the Author (to execute the delivery of the envelop upon death thereof) intersect with your obligation, if any, to the Opener, possible affected third parties, or to the Almighty?
One must allow for the possibility, after all, that the act of opening the envelop may have as a consequence the imposition of harm, either upon the Opener or some other party… whether it be real, perceived or imagined. Does the honorable man assume this burden? Is the honorable man obligated to assume this burden as part of the act of assuming the obligation from the Author? Can the honorable man execute this obligation without accepting, implicitly, some responsibility for the outcome of opening? If so, is the honorable man, executing this obligation, allowed (or perhaps required) to exercise his own judgment as to the proper way to execute this obligation?
After all, we must also suppose that the Author of said envelop is himself not capable of reliably imagining the state of affairs after his passing. Perhaps the contents of the envelop, designed in all conscience as a soothing balm to the Opener in the event of the passing (tragic or otherwise) of the Author, will instead have as a consequence the precise opposite effect wished by the Author. One can imagine that this will be difficult to predict, and that the only possible judge of the outcome of revelation is in fact not the Author but instead the Bearer of the obligation… but of course the Bearer cannot surmise the actual effect of disclosure without knowing the contents of said envelop.
What does one do? Open the envelop and examine the contents prior to delivery, after the death of the Author? Deliver the envelop after the Author’s passing without heed to the consequence? Deliver the envelop after passing in full awareness of possible consequence and accepting full responsibility for disclosure of revelations enabled by one’s actions, without exercising one’s own judgment as to the value of the contents itself? Is this perhaps a case for a relativists to argue “It Depends on The State of Affairs at the Time”, or must one have a clearly stated position upon accepting the obligation in the first place to regard oneself as a proper gentleman?
Apologies to all and sundry for the non-gender neutralized verbiage.