Am I Immoral?

I have a confession to make: I am a liar. I have deliberately told an untruth about a fellow human being, with the intent to convince my listeners to believe something unsavory about that person and to affect her negatively. Shame on me? You decide. The story that follows has virtually no connection to Mormonism, other than that I happen to be Mormon, the Gospel demands that we not bear false witness against our neighbor, and I did so anyway with reckless abandon. All you amateur Mormon ethicists out there are invited to weigh in on my actions and call me to repentence … or not.

One fine afternoon about two years ago, I pulled up to the drive-through at Jack-in-the-Box. I don’t particular care for Jack-in-the-Box, but as it was down the street from my wife’s work, I often bought something to eat there. I frequented the place enough that the Latino employees at the drive-through window knew me by sight, and would always smile and say hello. I would do the same. On this particular occasion, a homeless black man, probably in his late 70’s, walked past my car, passively looking for a handout. I politely brushed him off, as I often do in these situations. A few moments later, as I was thinking about whether to order the buttermilk ranch or the Red Hot sauce with my chicken strips, I was suddenly jolted out of my stupor by a loud, caustic stream of racist vulgarities unlike any I had ever heard before. I turned around and witnessed the following scene: The black man had approached the car behind me, soliciting some change. The trashy-looking woman driving the car lit into him with the most obscene tirade imaginable. “Get the f*ck away from my car you f*cking n*gger!” she screamed. A continuing stream of F-words and N-words continued to flow from her lips. The volume and intensity of her bile was mind-blowing. I can honestly say I have never heard such a shocking display of hateful, racist filth in my entire life. No R-rated movie I’d ever seen could compare. No episode of Jerry Springer could ever come close (even without the censors). Even that Korean woman in testimony meeting couldn’t hold a candle to this crone.

The black man’s reaction was interesting. He was clearly shocked by the treatment he received, and I got the impression that he probably hadn’t been talked to like this in a very long time. His initial, visceral response was to lunge at the car instinctively, as if he wanted to strike out at the window, but he stopped himself before he actually did so. Keep in mind that this was a very elderly gentleman, so I doubt he was prone to physical violence as a rule. The woman was unphased, and continued her racist tirade unabated.

I immediately became furious. Despite the occasional moral indignation I display on the internet, people who know me in real life will tell you that I rarely get visibly angry, if ever. I am known for my rather narrow range of emotional states: jaded, sarcastic, and more sarcastic. Thus, I hadn’t felt this way for as long as I could remember. It was like I was in a Charles Bronson movie, or I was sitting in Harrison Ford’s buggy, watching the tourists pick on the Amish guy. I was pissed.

The black man decided to ignore his verbal assailant, and he walked past my car again. I decided to lean out the window and hand him 2 dollars. He asked me if I’d just buy him a couple tacos instead, which I agreed to do. This gesture earned me an earful from the woman behind. “F*cking Saab-driver!” she yelled, over and over again. (Ouch – “Saab-driver”! What a put down! She really got me good with that one!). This gave me the opportunity to do something I don’t think I’ve done since highschool. Down went my window, and up went my middle finger. (Juvenile and crass? Perhaps, but it somehow seemed appropriate at the time.)

I drove up to the pick-up window, paid for my food, handed the gentleman his tacos, and proceeded to drive off. The placement of the drive-through window and the exit at this location was such that I had to double back 180 degrees to leave the parking lot. In doing so, I passed right by the drive-through window again, just as the woman in the car was picking up her food. With my window down, I was able to hear her conversation with two Jack-in-the-Box employees. In a very irate tone, she was demanding to speak to the manager, in order to complain about the black man that had been “harrasing” her in the parking lot. She insisted that the restaurant see to it that he was kicked off the premises.

At this point, I snapped. I stopped my car, got out, and walked up to the drive-through window, placing myself squarely between the window and the woman in the car. I proceeded to talk to the employees in Spanish. (I’m as white as white can be, so it always comes as a shock to Latinos when I can speak their language. I figured my speaking Spanish might help my credibility in this instance.) I indignantly explained to the employees that they should pay this woman no heed, as she was a lying, hateful “racista” whose only motivation was to malign an innocent black man and to provoke an ugly incident. But I felt like this wasn’t enough. I needed to say something else, to really dissuade the employees from having sympathy for her duplicitous claims. And then it happened …

I decided to lie.

I continued addressing the Latino employees, but I switched to English, making sure that the woman in the car would understand me. “And that’s not all,” I fibbed. “This lady also made some ugly comments about you! After insulting that black man, she started mouthing off about how the “damn, dirty Mexicans” at this restaurant should be sent back toTijuana! So you guys decide if this is someone you want to take seriously.” The employees looked at the woman and then looked at me with wide-eyes. They’re faces seemed to turn white.

I shot a knowing glance at the woman in the car myself, gave her a big cheesy grin, and walked off.

Aaron B


  1. “h, the classic, “I don’t own an SUV — it’s my wife’s” line…
    Grasshopper | Email | Homepage | 08.12.04 – 5:04 pm | # “

    Well, that’s true, it is my wife’s …

    And what’s wrong with Volvos? You can get an S602.5t for less than a similar Honda Accord or Volkswagen Passat.

    Plus your insurance rates go down.

  2. Aaron Brown–John Brown. Clearly there is a link here that goes beyond last names.

  3. Aaron,

    I enjoy the occansional sourdough Jack. I also enjoyed the story. I do think that your lie didn’t serve any purpose since your Spanish and calmness gave you plenty of credibility without resorting to that. Of course as a lawyer you probably felt the need to advocate your case agressively…

    In any case you defused the situation and did some good (along with some harm to the reputation of Saab drivers everywhere) so I am not sure that I can condem you. Here’s a question: Would you have said the same thing in English? Did you feel more secure in your lie knowing that you couldn’t be caught?

  4. Aaron, thanks for the correction. After reading that paragraph carefully I have discovered that you used “They’re” incorrectly and that you did in fact speak your lie (or fib as you call it) in English. :)

    I am still not sure that the lie was needed, but it certainly sealed the deal, didn’t it?

  5. Aaron, you tell the best stories. I’ll hope you’ll continue to tell those kinds of lies in the future if the right situation should arise (hopefully won’t happen much).

    That woman clearly had a serious problem. As I was reading the story I kept imaginging myself in your place … getting out of the car, walking up to her car, and doing some serious damage to her vehicle.

  6. AB, that is one of the funniest comments I’ve ever read. Thanks.

  7. Ah, the classic, “I don’t own an SUV — it’s my wife’s” line…

  8. Aaron Brown says:


    You can rest assured that, like every good denizen of L.A., I do drive a BMW. The Saab belongs to my wife, but I happened to be driving it that day.

    The Saab is an old 900 Turbo Convertible. One of the classiest looking convertibles around, if you ask me — much better looking than the new ones. We like it a lot, and it also happens to be the roomiest convertible you’ll ever sit in. I’m 6’5″ and my wife is 6’2″, and we can even sit in the back seats and have sufficient leg room. How many convertibles can you say that about? (Answer: None.)

    By the way, it’s for sale. Interested buyers please contact me by email, and if you buy it soon, I might even throw in a free Guest-Blogging appearance at BCC for you! (These guest stints are really, really valuable, you know).

    Aaron B

  9. Edit: I know your last statement was in plain english, I mean, you merely Translated her racism from hatred of blacks into hatred of Mexicans so the employees would understand clearly what was upsetting you so much about her.

  10. Except for the finger part (which would just make me feel too guilty to really relish the experience), good for you.

  11. First – it is spelled “Gandhi”, not “Ghandi”, and i ought to know ciz, I am Indian!! :)
    And being Indian, I do get my share of racist slurs thrown at me. In most cases it has been poorly-educated trailer-park types doing the name calling, though, I have had Volvo-driving otherwise politically-correct, so-called liberals call me names too. Though, it makes me real angry, and the desire to physically attack the person spewing the heat-filled words has been great, I have chosen to walk away. Only once, have I done something – while in college, I had a professor call me a ‘dirty brownie nigra” and I actually hot him with a squash racquet, and he made a big to-do about it, called campus police saying he had been assaulted, and was in fear of his life!!! Thankfully, there were 3 or 4 other people who had heardhhis remarks, and so he decided to not maake a formal complaint, because if the story of him using racist slurs came out, his career as a politically correct, liberal-leftist professor woul dbe finished!!!!!!

  12. Great story. Absolutely great story. The main problem with lying about this is that it could have detracted from your credibility. If you heard her, perhaps they did, too, and knew that she didn’t say anything about them.

    Saab-driver. Ouch. That had to have hurt.

  13. I can understand the tirade and Aaron’s visceral response, that’s just human nature at its worst and best. But the Saab needs some explaining.

    The best rationale I can think of is, “The neighbors all own Volvos already, so a Saab was as close as I could come without seeming like a copycat.” But Volvos are Bay Area cars, LA people go for BMWs and Mercedeses (Mercedi?), so this is an unlikely explanation. Pray tell, why a Saab? Yes, they are fine cars, but there must be more to the story.

  14. I don’t feel very good about this story. How about a revised version, something like this: The man approaches you. You offer him some money &/or food. You smile warmly at him. You regard him with compassion and love, and a brother in God’s family. You overhear the angry woman swearing and hurling racist epithets at the man. You feel sad. You also regard her with compassion and recognition that she is your sister in God’s family. You pity her for her stunted emotional and spiritual growth and whatever life history has brought her to this point. You overhear her conversation with the restaurant employees. You decide to enter the conversation. You calmly approach the drive-through window. You say something like, “I’m so sorry this woman felt threatened by the man in question. He approached me very politely, and I perceived no threat at all. He seemed simply to be hungry and poor. I was moved by compassion to help him. I hope that you will not evict him from your premises, but show kindness to an unfortunate fellow human being.” .

    The advantages that I perceive from this type of response are:
    1) you would have progressed in your goal towards becoming a more-Christ-like person.
    2) the racist woman might have been humbled by your good example, and inspired to change, to look upon others with more compassion. (Probably not, but I think the chance is more likely with this response than in the original story.)
    3) the restaurant employees might have been moved by your good example, and inspired to look upon others with more compassion.
    4) you would not, hopefully, have engendered as much hatred and anger in the racist woman towards you.
    5) you would not, hopefully, have engendered as much hatred and anger in the employees towards the woman.

    Who are the real heroes? Christ, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind. They returned love for hatred, good for evil, peace for violence, forgiveness for offenses against themselves. They appealed to conscience, to the best that is within us. They made a difference because they rose above the natural reaction to anger and retribution. So many people have been moved by their extraordinary examples that whole societies have made huge, radical improvements. (Obviously, not to the point of perfection, but improvements none the less).

    I am grateful that you have that spark of compassion for the homeless man, the sense of indignation that led you to try to act in his behalf. But I think your method was not the wisest or most moral course of action.

    p.s. I doubt I would have followed my own counsel in this situation. Most likely I would have driven away, thinking judgmental thoughts about the woman behind me, but doing nothing at all to intervene or help. How much easier to analyze a situation posted on a website than come up with good solutions on the spot in real life.

  15. I don’t think the point of Aaron’s story was whether he was a Ghandian hero, but rather would he be damned to hell for his lie.

    Aaron the scriptures are full of people breaking commandments in order to serve the greater good. I mean, it’s not like you killed Laban or something here and it’s not like you needed to wait for a Personal Revelation to make a decision on a matter like this. Did you need to lie? Maybe, maybe not, who knows. Are you going to hell? Maybe, but if you do it’s not going to be over this incident. ;-) I only wish I’d been there myself….

  16. I used to own a Saab. Speaking of swearing and indignation…

  17. I’ve been thinking lately if “righteous indignation” is ever beneficial. I think you answered my question, Aaron. Mix it in with a nice lie at the right moment and you have yourself a great benefit. :-)

  18. Ouch. Reading that hurts.

  19. Aaron Brown says:

    Ronin, have you seen the movie “Ronin”? I thought it was a Japanese term … otherwise, was Robert DeNiro’s doctor just blowing smoke?

    Aaron B

  20. Thanks for the spell-check. I wondered that as I typed it!

    I actually admire Aaron a lot for his sense of righteous indignation, moral courage, and willingness to get involved. What’s that quote about evil triumphing if good people do nothing? I can definitely learn something valuable from Aaron’s example.

    Anyway, it’s fun to play “amateur Mormon ethicist”. It’s much easier for me to pontificate about such things on a blog than actually get up from the computer and try to go interact with flesh and blood people in a loving and kind way. :-) But here I go. Wish me luck!

  21. That was so awesome! I love it. You broke like 25 commandments but it had to of been worth it. :)

  22. Aaron Brown says:

    Truth be told, Michelle probably does have a point. I certainly don’t think my actions were the most unambiguously moral course of action I could have taken. Nonetheless, I don’t regret them, and I cherish this incident. Let’s just say I don’t pretend to be Gandhi, who was no doubt a better man than I. :)

    I could probably pick at a couple of things Michelle said, but I won’t. I do think that moral indignation has it’s place, and I like to think that my actions served to teach the woman that “Hey, this is what it feels like to have people slander you,” but maybe I’m fooling myself. Who knows?

    Aaron B

  23. Aaron Brown says:

    yet another John,

    You didn’t read carefully. I DID say the relevant line in English. That was the point.

    Aaron B

  24. Yo, AaronMan–try to sell your car right after you admit to lying??

    Did you get any takers???

  25. You didn’t lie! you merely translated her racism into language the restaurant employees would clearly understand.

    Did they even serve her after that?

  26. You’re a lawyer, and you are concerned about a lie you told 2 years ago? What about yesterday?

  27. Aaron Brown says:

    Your right that I did use “they’re” incorrectly! How embarrassing! I hate people who cant or dont use apostrophes correctly. Its one of my biggest pet peeves. Theirs nothing I can do but hang my head in shame.

    Aaron B