Recently my wife Vicki & I went to see The Bourne Legacy. The movie is about the ongoing mission to create super soldiers capable of superhuman efforts (both physical and mental). In the movie, the program is compromised and the managers elect to shut it down by killing everyone involved (participants and researchers included). In the ensuing chaos, Aaron Cross (Treadstone operative) manages to elude death and through a series of events, Dr. Marta Shearing (Treadstone medical researcher) ends up with him in an effort to stay alive.
Early in their effort to escape, and before all of the action and superhuman feats and motorcycle chases, there was a memorable scene between Cross and Dr. Shearing. She is telling him about her work on a program of research in developing a virus strain that they have used to give the program participants their hyper mental and physical abilities and which comes with high risk and high reward. Cross asks her how she feels about creating something that is so potentially dangerous. She responds by saying it was about the science for her. Decisions about what to do with her creation were made by people above her pay grade. She was essentially saying, “I just create the weapon, I don’t think about the ethics of how to use it. Those decisions are made by someone else. I just do the science.”
This lack of thinking about the end results of our efforts and decisions is an unfortunately common problem in our society. As a friend of mine has written, many of us fail to think about the second and third order effects of our decisions. Put another way, we fail to think about how our actions will affect our lives in the future and the lives of those around us and how they affect us personally.
We realize that decisions made by large scale leaders (presidents, defense secretaries, generals) have large scale consequences with dramatic results for large numbers of people. Decisions made by individuals are most often more personal in nature. Decisions like how we spend our money, how we spend our time, how we speak to our spouse, our children, and our coworkers have profound implications for our lives. I challenge you to consider today how your present decisions are going to affect your future. Take a moment before you buy that big ticket item to consider the long term impact on your finances. Perhaps you need to consider whether spending time partying is a better use of your time than working on a college class. Think about how you speak to those you love. What is the potential long term effect of your tone of voice and words on your children or on your spouse? Are your daily actions in your work setting you up for success or failure?
Thinking about the secondary and tertiary effects is called discernment. Taking a moment before speaking or before making a decision to consider the long term effect can save us much heart ache in the future. Taking responsibility for our decisions all the way to their final result is ethical decision making. We should expect nothing less from ourselves.