Right and Wrong and Shades of Gray

As I get older, I am finding it more difficult to self- righteously judge others for their actions. I am seeing a disturbing pattern of people responding the best way they know how (or perhaps even the only way they know how) and trying to find the middle ground. More importantly, I find myself searching for the flaw in the system that led to the trouble in the first place.

The past few days I have been mulling over responsibility within hierarchical groups. Whether we want to admit it or not, our society remains a hierarchy. There are vulnerable people who look to leaders to guide and protect them. This places the burden of responsibility on our leaders.

Remember the movie Flight? I took my son to see it in the theater, and aside from the opening scene, I am so glad I did. It gave me the opportunity to discuss professionals who are held to higher standard of ethical conduct. We discussed the importance of ethical behavior when you are responsible for other people’s lives. It did not matter that the main character of the movie saved many lives, and that no one else could have pulled off the miracle crash landing the way he did. He violated the rules. Do you forgive someone for violating those rules just because he did a reportedly better job than someone else would have done?

Airline pilots are held to very strict standards and the events that took place in Flight are highly unlikely, however it did serve as a handy metaphor for an ethical dilemma for my son and I to discuss. It gave me the opportunity to try to explain public trust, and how you are held to higher standards of conduct when your impairment could jeopardize public safety.

Teachers, medical professionals, law enforcement, transportation workers, and the armed forces are just a few of the professionals who are held to these higher standards. There is a reason we do background checks on people who want to enter these professions. We are hoping to weed out some of the corruption. We are hoping to decrease the chance for tragedy.

I may be a little naive, but I sincerely believe that most people enter these professions with good intentions. I do not want to change my stance on this. I need to believe in the basic good nature of people, and that these professionals want to help.

Sometimes, being of service is a difficult endeavor, and frequently these professionals are subjected to horrors beyond imagination. There is nothing to shield them. This is when they are most at risk for secondary trauma, burnout, and compassion fatigue. There is a whole theory based on this, and there is a scale to measure Professional Quality of Life.

It is imperative that we support our professional caretakers so that they can continue to care for our society. It is time for someone to walk into the gray zone, and offer support and understanding, so that finally there can be healing.

Furthermore, we have to hold our leaders accountable for their lack of protection for the individuals who work on the front lines. We need to have more strenuous reporting and follow-up for the first responders. We need to facilitate a healthier work place, and promote open communication. Instead of telling people to just do their job, and get over the stress, we need to let them have time to debrief and be honest about how traumatic situations affect them.

Secrets are like poison, and while it is understandable that you cannot tell just anyone, everyone needs a safe place and a reasonable sounding board. Everyone needs somebody sometime.