The philosopher Friedrich Hegel once suggested that the most difficult decisions are not choosing between good and evil; rather, between good and good. This is what Joseph Badaracco has in mind in his book Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right (Harvard Business Review Press 1997):
“This book argues that right versus-right choices are best understood as defining moments. They are decisions with three basic characteristics: they reveal, they test, and they shape. In other words, a right versus-right decision can reveal a manager’s basic values and, in some cases, those of an organization. At the same time, the decision tests the strength of the commitment that a person or an organization has made. Finally, the decision casts a shadow forward. It shapes the character of the person and, in some cases, the organization.”
In the Inferno portion of The Divine Comedy, Dante reserved the last and worst ring in hell for those who — in a moral crisis — preserve their neutrality. In this context, I am reminded of Edmund Burke’s assertion: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As Badaracco suggests, all of us have moments when a decision we make defines us…for better or worse.
I also recommend to your attention, Badaracco’s latest book, Managing in the Gray: Five Timeless Questions for Resolving Your Toughest Problems at Work, also published by Harvard Business Review Press (September 2016).