Ethical Issues on Gilligan’s Island
I’m not proud of it. It bothers me to this day. It ultimately made no difference to anyone but me but nevertheless, I know it and it bugs me. One day a very long time ago, long past the statute of limitations for this sort of thing, I made what I can only call a poor ethical decision. The reason I think I have not been able to set this one aside is that it revealed something to me about myself as a leader that I have been sensitive to ever since. In the sharing of this, I hope to reach some other leader and ask a question that is not often addressed proactively. That is, where is your ethical weak spot?
It is important to draw a very clear distinction between a true ethical dilemma (which is seldom all that clear) and a tempting decision between right and wrong. Most ethical dilemmas are choices between two arguable “goods”. There can usually be divided into some variation of four classic ethical dilemmas – The good of the one versus the good of the many, justice versus mercy, short term versus long term good and truth versus loyalty.
My ethical failure as a aircraft maintenance officer compelled me to speed by a procedure I knew to be binding, if cumbersome, in order to expedite the repair of a helicopter many years ago. I had accomplices, including my trusted lead mech, my Chief and all the aircrew. We all agreed it made sense, and the alternative was the humiliation of having to crane our helo off the ship pierside three days after our return from an extended deployment. This is where it got sticky for me. I did not want the bruise to my ego and pride by not being able to keep my aircraft flight ready.
Even though there was never any issue of safety of flight, the rule existed for a reason. I could have asked permission. Of course I didn’t, because I knew perfectly well would it be denied. I was surrounded and encouraged by guys who I would trust with my life (in fact, I had), but it was my call to do the right thing, even if it would make me the skunk at the church picnic. And I didn’t. I didn’t because of one of the seven deadly sins, pride.
Fabled TV producer Sherwood Schwartz admitted he patterned the seven characters of the 60’s show Gilligan’s Island after the seven deadly sins. Take a look in this mirror and you will see it so clearly. Skipper is rage. (Nope, I have a pretty even temper). Gilligan is sloth (I’m not lazy). Thurston Howell III is, of course, greed (Nope, cash flow ok). Lovey Howell is gluttony – all the woman does is consume off of others (Nope, I’m very independent). Ginger is lust (blurry spot, blurry spot). Mary Ann envies Ginger (Nope, no other women on the ship for me to envy). But lastly, the high minded, intelligent one – the Professor. Yes, that’s my character, and my character flaw. Thinking that I might be a little smarter than everyone else, disregard the procedure and very likely get away with it.
Many, many years later, I still think about this and realize the power in humble and honest self-reflection. A strong and wise leader knows they have a weak spot somewhere and they are exceptionally honest in dealing with it. They also know that a leader must not be blinded by their own sugared vision of themselves, unless of course they are happy living on an island with a bunch of fools.