Israel, Gaza and Ethics

“Who is right, Israel or Gaza?” one of my children asked.

“Well, it is complicated,” I said.

The two of us were out for a quick dinner of tacos and summer ice cream cones. We had a very interesting discussion about the recent events in Gaza and what gave rise to the conflict.

The more we talked, the more we realized that there were many complex issues intertwined. Who is the oppressor, and who is the victim? Do events from the past, going back thousands of years, justify the actions of today?

The Gaza situation is complicated.

It makes me think of a book I read for a college course, Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. Honestly, I probably understood only half of what he was writing.

But, I do remember that he was focused on the story of Abraham and Isaac, how the former felt called to sacrifice the latter, his only child. Now, that would involve tying up your son, building up a huge pile of wood, laying your son on top, knifing him and then cremating him. Then, coming home and explaining to your wife what you just did to her only child.

Kierkegaard points out the respect that people give Abraham. Every monotheistic religion calls him the “father of faith.”

But, he focuses on Abraham’s silence. This faithful icon says nothing about his plan to kill and then immolate Isaac. Not to his wife Sarah, not to Isaac, as they make a multiple-day trek to Mount Horeb. At one point, a suspicious Isaac even asked his father: “So, where’s the animal we are to sacrifice?” Abraham dodges the question.

Kierkegaard thereby asks: was all this ethical? And, if not, was this lapse of judgment trumped by a superior code, which was about obedience and faith?

There often is a “hierarchy of ethics.” Is it ok to steal to feed your family? Is it ok to incarcerate someone who is severely mentally handicapped and has committed a serious crime? When is a war a Just War?

This hierarchy exists for entrepreneurs. Is it ok to recruit a needed engineer by exaggerating your company’s prospects? To increase the exit for you and your company, is it ok to tell the sole bidder at the table that you have multiple offers from others at a higher price? Is it ok to tell your team that things are great, when you in fact believe that the company won’t make it?

Life is complicated. Entrepreneurship is complicated.

As you navigate these situations, I suggest that you think of a beloved person whom you trust. Could be a relative, a teacher or a coach. Could be God, if you’re spiritual. Ask yourself this: would this person be proud of your decision? Not just accepting, but extremely proud. I think answering that will help cut through the complexity and noise.

I also believe that the Pareto principle exists in your life. You make a lot of decisions, but most are inconsequential. Instead, 5% of your decisions affect 95% of your future.

It is critical to get those ones right.

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