Every single day we have to make thousands of decisions. Some are as simple as what time to get out of bed, what to eat for breakfast, or what clothes we are going to wear. However not all decisions are easy, in our personal lives and work lives we sometimes have to make difficult or complicated decisions. This sets the basis for the factors that affect decisions and how we handle them.
What makes a difficult decision? Difficulty is often gauged by the severity of the outcome. We would deme the decision to pick fruit loops or cheerios less difficult to make than say, which school to put our kids in. So what makes your breakfast choice less difficult? Well when you analyze the outcomes of choosing one cereal over the other, the result will be that you’ll be less hungry than when you started, and the worst case scenario being that you would of rather had fruit loops that day. Compare that to choosing which school your kids go to, the outcome becomes much more complicated. For example, it is possible that the school which your children attend will have no effect on their future. But there is also the possibility that the choice of school will greatly alter their lives. With no means to tell for sure, one can only investigate each outcome as best as possible, and finally make that difficult decision.
This leads us to another couple of factors affecting our decision making process. The more difficult a decision is the more time to make that decision is required. However, as many of us know, this is not always an option. Furthermore stressful situations can be caused either internally by the decision itself, but also externally by the conditions in which we make decisions. Stress can induce an altered state of mind in which every person reacts differently. Often individuals who can make effective decisions under stressful conditions and in short amounts of time are highly regarded.
The Hurt Locker
Perhaps one of the best examples of stressful decision making is in a combat situation. While many business decisions can be stressful, it’s hard to match the outcomes of life and death many soldiers face every day in active duty. The recent film ‘The Hurt Locker’ released in 2008 portrays the particularly stressful life of Sergeant First Class William James, Sergeant JT Sanborn, and Specialist Owen Eldridge, a military bomb squad in Iraq. For the 3 man team portrayed in the film, there are multiple levels of danger associated with their duty. The decision to join the army, being deployed for active duty in Iraq, and being on the bomb squad, and having to constantly deal with IED’s in a combat situation. For it is one thing to diffuse a bomb in a secure location, but more complicated to diffuse a bomb while the streets around you are far from safe. The combination of all the factors surrounding an army bomb squad means that determining the best decision can be substantially more complicated than choosing what to eat for breakfast.
Suicide Bomber: What is more evil?
The film is loaded with difficult scenes, and questionable wartime tactics, from injured insurgents, hostage situations, to bomb laden Iraqi bodies.
One particular scene in the movie deals with a particularly difficult ethical decision. Suicide bombers usually strike without any warning, but in this scene, the troops are faced with a different kind of bomber. The man is strapped with explosives, but he has changed his mind, regretting his decision and begging for help. The scene is reflective of the opening scene of the movie in which one member lost his life due to a bad decision. Troops clear the area, as James, Sanborn, and Eldridge are called to the scene. The amount of explosives on the man forces the troops to isolate him, keeping a safe zone around him. As the man cries for help, James is strapped with the bomb suit and goes to analyze the situation. Sanborn and James attempt to free the man of his explosive vest, but it is tightly secured with a series of locks and metal strapping, and a timer ticking down to detonation. It quickly becomes clear that they will not be able to free the man in time, as Sanborn tries to drag James away. James struggles to the last seconds to try and free the man, but ultimately has to make the difficult decision to leave him. The scene closes with a massive explosion.
Although difficult, it seems a necessary decision to leave the man for the safety of everyone else involved. And for most people that exact decision seems like the only logical choice. Ultimately that decision is one of the biggest ethical questions individuals, soldiers, organizations, or governments have to face, and is more commonly known as the lesser of two evils. It’s that very concept that many people would struggle with, and ultimately, even people who don’t believe in the concept of a lesser of two evils will react in the same manner.
Lesser of Two Evils in Life
Not every variation of the Lesser of Two Evils concept is life and death. The concept only implies that in some strained situations, the benefit of many must occur at the expense of a few. In that view, democracy itself can be thought of in this way, for democracy is the benefit of the majority, at the expense of the minority. Every decision has a compromise, there is always sacrifice. More often than not, these types of decisions are surrounded with time constraints and stress. It is easy to judge a decision from a calm environment with ample time to explore the outcomes, but not easy to make that decision when the time calls for it. This is something we must always remember. As stressful conditions intensify, and time is short, we may not have the opportunity to investigate all possible outcomes, but a diligent attempt is required.
It is imperative that we strive towards that balance in life. While not all our decisions will be the best ones, we should work towards educating ourselves and exploring the options as best as possible. By doing this we can ensure that we are better equipped to handle situations as they arise. Just as we must not let the restrictions of voluntary blindness to issues around the world affect us, so too can this concept be reflected in a global scale. By limiting exposure and education, prime conditions for unethical decision making can develop. Often so, these bad decisions can even be done without harmful intention, but as the world changes, the ignorance excuse is losing credibility. The regimes of the Soviet Union, East Germany, and more recently North Korea all have worked to blind their citizens of the freedom of knowledge. Without knowledge it is difficult for individuals to make informed decisions, the lines between right and wrong can quickly become blurred.
The importance of establishing a sound knowledge base is the foundation for good ethical values. As DesJardins outlines “acts and choices that aim to promote human well-being are acts and choices based on ethical values” (DesJardins, 2009). While many of us may not face the same conditions that an army bomb squad will, we will however face difficult situations nonetheless. Nobody wants to be faced with making difficult decisions, but it is inevitable in life. As Sergeant Sanborn says riding back in the Humvee after that particular final scene, “you realize every time you suit up, every time we go out, its life or death, you roll the dice, and you deal with it” (Bigelow, 2008). We do not have the luxury of choosing which situations we are faced with, but we do have to deal with them. With a strong understanding of our surroundings and values we can enable ourselves to make the difficult decisions to the best of our ability.
Bigelow, K. (Director). Mackie, A. (Actor). (2008). The Hurt Locker [Motion picture]. Voltage Pictures.
DesJardens, J. (2009). An introduction to business ethics (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.