Ethical Decision Making

Veerendra Jaitly

CEO: C_cube Consultants

A group of children are playing near two railway tracks, one still in use while the other is disused. Only one child is playing on the disused track, the rest on the operational track. The train is coming, and you are just beside the track interchange lever. You can make the train change its course to the disused track and save most of the kids. However, that would also mean the lone child playing on the disused track would be sacrificed. Or would you rather let the train go its way?

Let’s take a pause to think what kind of decision we could make…………….?

Not an easy decision.

Most people might choose to divert the course of the train, and sacrifice only one child. You might think the same way, I guess. Exactly, I thought the same way initially because to save most of the children at the expense of only one child was rational decision most people would make, morally and emotionally.

But, have you ever thought that the child choosing to play on the disused track has in fact made the right decision to play at a safe place? Nevertheless, he has to be sacrificed because of his ignorant and errand friends who have chosen to play where the danger is.

This kind of dilemma happens around us everyday. In the office, community, in politics and especially in a democratic society, the righteous thinking of a few is often sacrificed in order to assuage the voice of a few vocal demonstrators, no matter how foolish or ignorant these demonstrators are, and how farsighted and knowledgeable the few silent decent people are. The child who choses not to play with the rest on the operational track is sidelined represents the one who follows the law of the land. And in this case if he is sacrificed, no one would shed a tear for him.

The great critic Leo Velski Julian who told the story said he would not try to change the course of the train because he believed that the kids playing on the operational track should have known very well that track was still in use, and that they should have run away if they heard the train’s sirens. If the train was diverted, that lone child would definitely die because he never thought the train could come over to that track.

Moreover, that track was not in use probably because it was not safe. If the train was diverted to the track, we could put the lives of all passengers on board at stake. And in your attempt to save a few kids by sacrificing one child, you might end up sacrificing hundreds of people to save these few kids. Here in the story, you may think that the passengers in the train represent the vast majority of population of a country who are innocent, decent citizens belonging to diverse castes and religions. Why the whole nation should be put to risk by diverting the train to unused track to save a few mischief mongers who make a lot of noise and sometimes even supported by the media to get greater TRPs.

While we are all aware that life is full of tough decisions that need to be made, we may not realize that hasty decisions may not always be the right one. And also decisions that are taken under pressure from some employees or their unions in an organization may not be ethically correct and not good for the organization though they may be legally correct decisions.

In order to understand this part of being ethically wrong and legally correct, I am tempted to narrate another example quoted by Mr Shiv Khera a number of times about a taxi driver at Singapore who asked for $10 though the meter was showing $11 from Mr Shiv Khera when he dropped him at the hotel. Mr Shiv Khera was confused. So he asked him the reason for charging $1 less than what the meter is showing. The taxi driver said that he was not very sure about the exact approach road to the hotel and so he took a bit circuitous route which he shouldn’t have done. Though legally, the driver was entitled to charge $11 but he politely told Mr Khera that ethically he deserved to get only $10. What a great example of being ethically correct in our day today dealings?

Even highly ethical employees at times can make poor ethical decisions in complex issues due to their lack of home work, lack of diligence and overconfidence.

I wish I could narrate such examples from India too in my writings and lectures. I am sure, there are and let us try to highlight them so that others can follow them too.

This way, there are many times in our life when there is a tussle between various options while making a decision. We should always try to make a decision that is not only legally correct but ethically correct too. And you are convinced that this decision is meant for the good of the organization, the community, the nation or the human kind. This decision is not based on narrow whims and fancies of someone but it has been taken for the larger good of the society and the human kind.

While making any important decision, be sure that you have adequate information to support an intelligent choice. Verify the assumptions you may be making and other uncertain information. In addition, consider the reliability and credibility of the sources providing you the information. Even if a person giving you the info says that he or she personally heard or saw something, evaluate that person in terms of his or her honesty, integrity and accuracy. When you make the final decision out of a few options, you must determine if any of your options will violate any core ethical values, and then eliminate those unethical options. Identify if your decision is likely to adversely affect someone. Can it be avoided? And should it be avoided? The second part is also very important.

Six Steps Process for Ethical Decision Making:
Step 1: Define the problem
Step 2: Identify available alternative solutions to the problem
Step 3: Evaluate the identified alternatives
Step 4: Make the decision
Step 5: Implement the decision
Step 6: Evaluate the decision

May be you are punishing someone in your organization for some grave mistake of his or her. May be that despite all your efforts to correct someone, he or she doesn’t improve and you have to give a pink slip to the person or give some other punishment. Yes it will affect him/her but then you are running a company of say 2000 people and you have to set an example for others. This will be an ethically correct decision but make sure that you are legally correct also here.

Sometimes, there is a tussle between your head and heart. Head wants to go for Option 1 but heart doesn’t agree and wants to go for Option 2. In such cases, you find it difficult to come to the final choice. In such a case, talk to someone whose judgment you respect. Or think of a person of strong character that you admire and ask yourself what he/she would have done in the same situation. And once you take a decision, be sure that you are proud of your decision in the long run and you don’t repent for it at any stage. If any decision is not likely to produce the intended results, or it may cause additional unintended and undesirable results, then it means that there is a need to re-assess the situation and seek new options before you make the final decision.

Dwarka Parichay feel honoured to have Mr. Veerendra K Jaitly on advisory panel.

Note: Dwarka Parichay invites excellence from fields like social, literature, education, science, IT, Business etc. who are willing to serve society despite their busy schedule. Please send brief profile with photograph for publishing at Dwarka Parichay.