Thursday, April 1, 2010
The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number
In my career I've had many roles. I've been a consensus builder and a disruptive innovator. Sometimes I'm a leader and sometimes I'm a follower.
No matter what I've done in academia, industry, or government, I've been guided by a few basic principles:
*The Boston Globe test (customize to the locale of your choice) - if your actions were published as a front page article, would they seem fair and reasonable to the average reader?
*The Sister Mary Noel test (my second grade teacher at St. James Catholic School) - if you had to explain your actions to Sister Noel, would you pass her sense of right and wrong or be rapped on the knuckles with a ruler?
*The Sunday night phone call with parents test - when you describe your week to your mom, will your actions seem noble?
*The Senate testimony test - when describing your actions to a Senate panel, is there any reason to say "I have no recollection of those events Senator"
*The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number test - will your actions have a lasting impact on your organization, your state, or your country without direct personal benefit. Although it's true that actions on behalf of others can indirectly bring notoriety to you, fame is not the primary motivation for what you do.
Unfortunately, in our modern society many people I encounter seem more interested in their fame, their fortune, and their reputation.
It could be the economy. It could be competition for resources. It could be a biased sample selection.
How many people have you encountered today who put their co-workers, neighbors, and society first?
When the topic of healthcare reform is discussed, the first question is - what will it mean to my benefits, my costs, and my retirement rather than what will it mean for the 32 million uninsured, future generations, and our nation's competitiveness.
We're only on this planet for 80 years. We cannot take anything with us. If happiness can be measured by making a difference during our short tenure, I hope that more people will ask big picture questions focused on the world around us rather than the size of their house, the speed of the car, or the stylishness of their bling.
I'm not suggesting that we have blind faith in authority or that we all embrace socialism as the solution to every policy problem.
I am suggesting that we move beyond a narrow self focus in all that we do. We should evaluate policy with the lens of the greatest good for the greatest number in our communities, states, and country. We need to move past special interest thinking, including our own.
Change is hard and fear of the unknown can be unsettling. As I've written previously in my blog about your Karma account balance , the good guy (or gal) can lead a life where accounts received exceeds the balance due (borrowed from a Janis Ian song)
If we guide our behavior each day based on choices that look good to the Boston Globe, Sister Noel, our Moms, public scrutiny, and our fellow humans, the world will be a better place.
Posted by John Halamka at 3:00 AM