Global Ethics Corner: When You Cross a Line

Oct 30, 2009

When balancing life's complex tensions, how do you know when you've crossed a line?

Life's tensions preoccupy a wonderful Taiwanese film, which demands we consider choices.

A professional tension shows in the title, "No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti," Spanish which captures perfectly the Taiwanese. The English, "I Can't Live without You," sounds too much like a love ballad, but there is no Spanish in the movie. Marketing device or artistic insight?

The film is about breaking and rescuing lives. A middle-aged man, Li Wu-hisung, does odd jobs at the port and lives with his daughter, Mei, in illegal housing. The two survive fairly happily, but the household is unregistered, and she should enter school. Helping Mei compromises them.

One tension is facing these small, daily tragedies. Will they loose each other? The rules exist for humane reasons. The bureaucrats personally have empathy. Should they bend or break the rules? Conversely, could their compassion become corruption?

Another tension regards risks that individuals or society assume. Li dives into the harbor's depths to repair ships, knowing his employer is careless. What of Mei if he doesn’t work, but what if Li dies? He has free universal healthcare, but no safety regulations. What are they owed, and what responsibility is his?

Finally Li endangers Mei in a desperate act. Does love and oppression justify this desperation? Also, what price must he pay?

The filmmakers' answers to tension are complex, a balance of both sides of the line.

What do you think? Can you balance these tensions or must you choose? When do you cross a line?

By William Vocke

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