Let’s picture a situation where an individual (let’s call him John) is the owner of a shop. John has two employees, whom we shall name Jane and Bill. John has a good relationship with Jane and Bill, and business is good.
However, during a weak period in economy, John’s shop starts to see a decline in clientele, and his sales drop. However, his costs remain high, as he is reluctant to let any of his employees go. Unfortunately, at some point, the situation becomes so critical that he faces a couple of options: to close his shop, which would compromise his own livelihood and that of his employees, or to downsize and let one of his employees go, which would compromise the affected party’s livelihood.
John makes a tough decision, and with the hope of giving his business some time to recover and turn around, he decides to let Bill go. John is fully aware that this decision will have an undesirable impact in Bill’s life. In the meantime, he reassures Jane that she’s keeping her job, which guarantees her immediate livelihood.
In the above example, John was facing a tough situation where, regardless of his ultimate decision, some collateral damages would have been inflicted, whether upon himself or upon other people. In his case, his decision ended up hurting Bill, although he did somehow manage to salvage a relatively positive outcome for Jane and himself. Nevertheless, John cannot help but feel guilt for his action, despite this being mostly caused by situations beyond his control (i.e. adverse business conditions).
In our case above, does John’s decision make him a bad individual?
Unfortunately, just like in John’s case, there are situations in life where people with good intentions end up inflicting damage upon other individuals. People make difficult decisions where, despite of being fully aware of the consequences, they act to avoid a more dangerous situation, or to keep the danger away from themselves or others.
When we inflict damage upon others, does that makes us bad people?
What if the damage caused is not intentional?
What if, against our will and our best intentions, our interactions with people result in unwanted consequences that affect other people?
Are we to blame ourselves for damage inflicted upon others, even when we tried our best to avoid it?
There is no easy answer to any of the above questions. In fact, there are no right or wrong answers: When we act fully aware of the consequences of our acts, we are accountable for the results of our actions. Even when we might not be fully aware of the consequences that our decisions would have, we still hold some responsibility on their consequences.
On the other hand, however, we can argue that when we face these dilemmas where we know undesirable consequences will arise, we can count ourselves as victims of the dilemma itself. Essentially, when damage is inflicted as a result of a difficult decision where we cannot avoid the collateral effects, we are making those decisions based on particular circumstances. We are not to blame about causing one damaging effect, which we chose over another outcome which would have been in itself another damaging effect.
It is unfortunate and sad that sometimes life gives us these challenges, where the outcomes of our moves will have a negative effect elsewhere. However, it is up to us to make the best out of those outcomes: When these situations arise, and we make difficult decisions, nothing prevents us from being human and approaching the people who have been affected by our actions or decisions. It is at the point, more than ever before, our responsibility to support them and make sure that the damage inflicted is reduced to the least possible, and offer any kind of assistance to them.
As humans, we must care for one another. Even when we have inflicted pain or damage unto others, albeit unwillingly, it is our responsibility to care for them and to be as human as possible during their difficult times. Let’s not forget that our own path through life does contain some rough patches as well, and we never know when will we be the ones impacted by the collateral damage of other people’s decisions. The more humane we are with people in need of our support, the better support we will likely receive if we hit a rough patch.