What matters more to you? Mercy or justice? It's a famous question, the answer to which reveals a lot about who you are. I always answer mercy.
The mere mention of it causes me to declaim Portia's speech from 'The Merchant of Venice'. "The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes."
Which is why I'm in the outlandish position of writing a column, for the second week in a row, defending misbehaving Fianna Fáilers. What's the world coming to?
This week Barry Cowen is standing in the shame corner.
Some people claim his driving disqualification means he isn't fit to be a minister. The kind of people who claim such things must be terrifyingly perfect. I speak for those of us with a long list of "errors of judgment" behind us and therefore pause before condemning others. One shouldn't be absolutist - there are limits to mercy and justice must be done. But what are those limits and how do we decide where to draw the line?
Before I get to the substantive issue, it's worth considering the person or people who helped bring this matter to public attention. Is this about probity in politics or settling a score? Does the answer to that affect how we react?
If it's about probity, let's place the motives of these people in the best possible light. They may feel very strongly about drink driving and thought it fundamentally wrong that anyone with such a record should be a minister.
Or this could well be driven by spite and personal animosity against Cowen.
If so, I feel very uncomfortable about giving them what they want - Cowen's head on a plate. That's not justice; that's revenge. And while I don't deny the pleasures of wielding an axe, I'd like to know more about whether there's an agenda at work.
If someone has a problem with Cowen's record, there are more noble ways to handle it. For example, they could have warned Cowen he had an obligation to tell Micheál Martin about the disqualification. That would have been braver, rather than telling a journalist.
But back to the main issue: does Cowen's record mean he should resign?
Well, his mistake has no bearing on his ability to do his job. I've never met the man but am assured he's super smart. Of course, that was said about his brother too with what can be most charitably described as mixed results for the rest of us. But he has only started and should be allowed a chance to prove himself.
Then there is the issue of "character".
Politicians are often shamed out of their jobs for acts of wrong doing with no direct connection to the office. An often damning scenario is one in which the politician attempts to interfere with or avoid justice. For example, if Cowen had phoned an influential sergeant to avoid the penalty - as it appears half the country was doing until Maurice McCabe put a stop to it - that would be a different matter.
In this case, he got caught. The punishment was imposed. He paid the proper price as recommended in law. There has been no trade-off between mercy and justice. Justice was done.
But politicians are often deemed, rightly, unfit if the gravity of their offence renders them unsuitable for high office.
Does Cowen's job fall into this category? I don't think so. Don't get me wrong; driving after drinking is so categorically proven to lead to accidents, there's a reason we treat it seriously.
The system has, however, been specifically designed to make the punishment fit the crime. Cowen really was at the lower end of the spectrum and it would neither be fair nor just to ignore that.
Some argue this lax attitude to drink driving is the whole problem - that Cowen should go to persuade people of the seriousness of the offence. I can see the merit in that, but I have a larger concern.
A major problem with modern politics is convincing people to see it as a viable career. The pressures of government are so immense, the lifestyle so destructive to family life and the abuse so intense many talented people refuse to run for the Dáil. We're all losing as a result.
If everyone guilty of a traffic offence - be it speeding, drink-driving or driving on a provisional licence - is disqualified from office, no matter how far in the past it took place, all we'll achieve is to reduce the pool of available talent to self-destructive levels.
I don't argue we should lower the bar to a point that brings politics into disrepute or that character is irrelevant. But neither should we raise it so high that tens of thousands of people, who possess little more than the common flaws of the common man, are either excluded or exclude themselves from applying.
We all got a reminder this week that chancing a drive home with two drinks isn't worth the consequences. The lesson has been learned, and now there really are more important problems to solve.