April 27, 2010
The eruption of the volcano in Iceland brought chaos both in heaven and on earth.
The Air Safety governmental authorities had a dilemma as to if and when to authorize airplanes to fly again.
The airlines companies wanted a lift of the ban on flights as soon as possible. Travelers on the ground were desperate. More than 100,000 flights were suspended and hundreds of thousands of passengers were stranded. Freight exporters and importers were frantic, loosing millions a day. A prolonged suspension of flights could very well jeopardize the global economy. (Let’s remember that suspension of flights for three days after 9/11 brought some U.S. airline companies close to bankruptcy.)
Yet, it was clear to all that no one could afford the risk of just one airplane crash.
To further complicate matters, the scientific community did not have a consensus view of the risks.
It is extremely difficult to do a risk/benefit analysis in a life and death situation. The fundamental question is how much risk is morally acceptable and who is entitled to make that determination?
We face risks all the time. A life totally absent of risk is impossible. In many situations, we determine when a risk is acceptable and when it is not.
We face in our professional and private lives risk taking situations. What are the possible elements to consider before making a decision? Let me mention three.
- Think long term.
We should ask ourselves how would we be thinking of the decision we are about to make in one year, in ten years? Sometimes an event or a circumstance seems to be a catastrophe when it happens but in reality it does not have negative long-tem consequences. In many cases we may not even remember it. However when the decision we are about to make has serious long-term consequences, we should then be very careful before making any decision. In the recent airline situation, even a major financial loss would most likely been recuperated in a few years time, but the loss of life is for ever and has far reaching consequences.
- Consider the interests of others.
We have to think not only of the consequence for ourselves but also for others. The question government officials should ask themselves before authorizing a plane to fly is whether they would make the same decision if they were passengers on that plane!
- Consider your values.
We should think about what is most important to us, what are the priorities in our lives? What decisions can we live with and conversely what would be most damaging to our conscience and well-being?
The Josephson Institute Center for Ethics lists 6 pillars of character. They are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship.
As Roy Disney once said:
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”