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Human quality is not about being good under normal circumstances!

A Test of Human Quality

The next few years after GFC in 2007 were quite challenging for many of us, businesses as well as for individuals. In 2010, I spoke at the IQPC conference in Singapore, in which I made a bold claim — how we could have avoided GFC with a better quality of our decisions and thinking.

“What is your definition of quality?” asked Bryan Camoens as he was interviewing me for the Podcast. I said, “Quality is not how good your product or service is under normal circumstances, but how good it remains under the abnormal ones.”

But then think about it. Quality is not only applicable to products or services, but it is also relevant to us humans and individuals.

How people, governments, and businesses have been responding to the current crisis of COVID-19 has been very revealing. Especially the strengths as well as flaws in human behavior.

Right from toilet paper brawls, to school closing decisions, to work-from-home challenges, to 10% product discounts amidst of all this, each of this has exposed once again — we humans are still not as advanced as we think, and many of us still have questionable quality!

What is human quality?

That’s where I believe our ethics come into the picture.

Ethics is what differentiates us from animals; because we can choose how we’ll act. For every choice we make, alternatives exist. We have the power to act against our instincts, and that’s what makes ethics feasible in the first place.

Ethics is not about “the best” response but “the right” one.

But what is right is not always popular, and what is popular may not always be right!

So then the question remains, “How do you decide what is right?”

I reckon it depends on our values and principles. And, as Ethics Center puts it quite clearly, there are three dimensions to it.

  • Values: they tell us what’s right. They are the things we strive for, desire, and seek to protect.
  • Principles: tell us what’s right. They outline how we may or may not achieve our values.
  • Purpose: is our reason for being, and it gives life to our values and principles.

While ethics is not always fun, it is what shapes our future, through each decision we make.

Ethics is not about “the best” response but “the right” one.

Ethical choices are not selective

About the school closures, the government posed some arguments. Some included how it may impact healthcare workers’ capacity to work and how children are not vulnerable to the virus. The officials were continually citing CMO and scientific recommendations.

All the offices and all other places where the congregation of 100+ people may happen are being closed. Social distancing rules have been implemented with a recommended distance of 1.5 meters between each other.

How about schools and colleges? Just when these schools and colleges come into question, the national economy takes precedence (over innocent lives)?

Have we forgotten our “duty of care” towards children and the next generation? How we treat the most vulnerable during difficult times says something about our ethical foundation, doesn’t it? No wonder this generation strongly feels that the previous generation has F’d up the planet badly, and we are not acting fast enough.

Most ethical frameworks agree that the right decision for one person should be the right decision for everybody else in the same position. Exceptions, therefore, are unethical. It is better always to ask, “What will happen if everybody did this?” And if we are comfortable with this answer, then it might be okay to further it.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It is also interesting to see how we selectively treat scientific recommendations in general. Last week in an article, Simon Longstaff said, “I have been left wondering how to explain our politicians’ commitment to acting on the basis of scientific advice when it comes to a global threat such as presented by SARS-CoV-2 — but not when it comes to a threat of equal or greater consequence such as presented by global warming.”

In the latest MIT Tech review article, Will Douglas Heaven asks an important question, “So with the mitigation you’re gambling with people’s lives, saying that a lot of people will die in the short term. But with suppression, you’re gambling on an unknown future, in which people will die over a longer period.”

Short-term deviations in our decisions can result in significant long-term impacts.

The counter-argument to this could be that it is a time of chaos and crisis, so acting fast is the priority, and that’s completely valid. But think again, is it that difficult to work in parallel on short-term and long-term actions? We are not talking about a resource-constrained ten people team here. Given the resources at hand for any big government, I think we can do better.

Just imagine how our response to climate change would look like if we handle it with the same urgency.

Imagine how our response to the challenges of technology ethics (AI ethics in particular) would look like with the same urgency.

Just imagine how our response to the mental illness problem would look if we handle it with the same urgency.

Does it always have to be this way? A helter-skelter situation for us to act prudently and with due urgency to essential matters?

So what can we do?

Indeed, novelty and fear always elicit heightened emotions in us. Novelty usually incites fear of missing out (FOMO), and therefore, it looks like anxiety and fear are the common factors here, for our rash and irrational behavior.

However, we can compensate for fear with information and knowledge. The only reason you wouldn’t get enough information is when someone is blocking it on purpose, or there is not enough transparency in the communication.

Fear can be compensated with information and knowledge.

Seek more information through multiple independent sources. Always cross-check it before you take any decision or reach any conclusion. It will hopefully help in alleviating fear and give some mental stability. This (information) principle applies now and always.

Many people around us are in stress due to a lack of information, incomplete information, or fear of the unknown. Some are not privileged enough to have 24x7 access to the internet, a stream of information or news. Be there for them, at your local level, and help them find the correct meaning through heaps of information that you may have.

Just remember, human quality is not about being good under normal circumstances. It is about how good we remain under the abnormal ones.

Use this period to show your qualities, the best ones. Seeing opportunity in adversity is one thing; being overly opportunistic is another. Avoid being excessively opportunistic, avoid news-jacking, keyword, or hashtag-jacking. Avoid cashing in on people’s fear. It is not a good idea; it never was.

Be empathetic and show kindness. Just about a couple of months ago, I have seen better human behavior during the bushfire crisis. Let’s not forget our best self. Toilet paper is certainly not worth it!

Stay healthy...stay safe!

By the way, I am still trying to understand the logical connection between toilet paper hoarding and the current crisis; if you find one (reason or roll), let me know!


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