I recently read about an incident during the American Revolution involving a British Captain, Patrick Ferguson and our most revered General and first President, George Washington.
Ferguson, the inventor of the breech loading rifle, had in his sights General Washington, alone except for one other horseman, but chose not to fire on him when he was spotted and Washington turned to ride off. The ripple effects of that instant are no doubt alive and at work even now, over two hundred years later. Though Ferguson did not know whom he had a chance to kill that day I doubt that his decision not to fire would have changed had he known. History tells that the Captain could not bring himself to shoot an unarmed enemy in the back. The ethics of the man dictated his decision even when the cloudy morals of war would almost certainly have made him a hero to his nation and his king.
History can teach us so much. This story is an example of just how great an impact one person can have on the future of so many others, even with just a simple choice between two courses of action. I doubt that many will have the impact that Captain Ferguson had on future centuries but even small ripples and their potential effects should give us all pause at times. We live in such complex times and have so many opportunities to choose to do things which are by modern interpretation acceptable. These accepted things often result in consequences that the instigator never sees. It’s those unseen effects though that should oftentimes be given greater consideration.
This may all seem a bit preachy and of course it is but maybe these days we could all use some preaching. The so-called grey areas in our world are expanding every day. Right and wrong are being made more malleable and being bent and contorted to suit all of our wants and whims. Business and personal ethics may be perceived quite differently in terms of their complexities but only when we go back to the simplest approaches to making ethical decisions can we hope to make the right ones for the greater good in my opinion.