Wrong never makes right

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Sean E. Cobb
  • American Forces Network Lajes
Two wrongs don't make a right.

This is such a basic, logical and common-sense ethical principle, yet it's amazing how often the premise is debated in fields like business ethics. However, Airmen are members of the U.S. Air Force, an organization with professional warriors who uphold the highest ethical standards.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," and he's right. When someone commits a wrongful action after someone does something wrong, it simply makes the situation worse.

There is a direct application here for people, and especially for Air Force leaders and supervisors. If someone does something wrong--let's say, fails to accomplish his or her assigned duties--what good does it do to meet the individual, lose composure, swear, and maybe even assign a harsh punishment, before fully discovering the facts of the case?

In some instances, this will result in supervisors being questioned for their wrongful behavior, and sometimes the actions taken against the offending members have to be tempered because the supervisors overreacted and committed their own wrongful actions.

It's better to take thoughtful, judicious steps in dealing with wayward behavior. Oftentimes, there is more than one side as to why something happened. A more lasting resolution can often be derived by digging down into the root of a problem, than by scratching the surface with hasty, misguided actions.

Another key element to consider when things go wrong is this--everyone should be allowed to make mistakes. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., former commander of U.S. Central Command and the top military leader of Gulf War I, said, "Allow for a few mistakes, because people must be given the latitude to learn."

Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, the Professional Development Guide, further explains this leadership concept, "To learn and improve, people need to be encouraged to try new things; sometimes their efforts may fail. A fundamental aspect of empowerment is acknowledging the right to fail... There can be no tolerance for violating regulations, jeopardizing safety, or failing due to lack of effort. However, if the setback is the result of a failed attempt, applaud the initiative, and dissect it so the subordinate can learn from what went wrong."

Let's get back to the overarching principle here, though -- two wrongs don't make a right. This principle is present in every interpersonal interaction we have in life. We all know football season is getting ready to start up. Anyone who follows The Game knows that it is nearly always the person who responds to a foul is who gets the flag. One player shoves another player, that player takes a shot back at him, and the referee, whose eye was drawn by the initial shove, sees the victimized player retaliate and his team pays in negative yardage.

In our families -- Buddy pulls Sissy's hair, Sissy kicks Buddy in the shin. Next thing you know, a knock-down, drag-out fight develops. Then Mom walks in and they both end up standing in the corner to cool off and are grounded for the week-end. With our friends--Sally gossips something untrue about Bobby. Bobby finds out, goes on a smear campaign against Sally, and before long a friend circle is broken apart.

All of these situations could have been resolved by following the principle not to commit a wrong in response to a wrong. People can "Take the High Ground," "Be the Better Person," or even "Turn the Other Cheek," but should always remember this--two wrongs don't make a right.