One Good Man: The Far Reaching Consquences of an Ethical Decision
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One Good Man: The Far Reaching Consquences of an Ethical Decision

george-washington

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.

Written by Kevin Wallach

Kevin Wallach has worked in Internet Performance Marketing for seven years. He currently runs Paradox M, Inc. based in Dallas Georgia. Specializing in lead generation he also has experience with list management, SMS advertising, and offline media. A self-proclaimed family guy, Kevin is also passionate about his professional life, writing, history, social and professional activism, and living a balanced life.

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4 Comments

  • brianb says:

    Interesting thought, but I disagree. You are implying that it is inherently ethical to not shoot an unarmed man in the back, but at the same time you are depending on the reader’s opinion of the ultimate outcome (GW’s presidency/US history, etc.) to “prove” that his decision was the “correct” one. Let’s turn the tables and say that the soldier was a CIA agent in Taliban territory in 1998, who happened to have the chance to shoot an unarmed man. Let’s say he doesn’t shoot the guy, the guy turns out to be Osama bin Laden, and the rest is history. According to your logic, it would have been both immoral to shoot Osama bin Laden, but you also ask for consideration of the unintended consequences…In other words, “do the ends justify the means?” Most Americans I think would agree that shooting Osama bin Laden in 1998, under any conditions, would have been a good thing. And yet many Arabs would disagree, contending that he was the George Washington of jihad, leading the revolution…

    Either way, it’s an interesting and improbable anecdote. Thanks for sharing…

    • I appreciate you taking the time to comment Brian. Not to change sides in the argument, but I do agree with you that ethics can be subjective. Your example is strong support of that point both from the perspective of someone who supports and that of someone who doesn’t support what Bin Laden did with his life or more so how his life was taken. I should have noted the inherent subjectivity but it’s gracious of you to say the the comparison was interesting to you. I don’t think the end necessarily justifies the means and in fact I would rely on another of the founding fathers as my basis for that. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said something to the effect that anyone who will hand over his freedoms in exchange for safety deserves neither.

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