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A moral dilemma

You can either be a cover-your-ass, yes-man or a passionate guy who speaks his mind and risks political suicide. Which path do you choose in this moral dilemma?

My recent post on dysfunctional workplaces sparked a moral dilemma, of sorts. It goes like this:

You have a choice. On the one hand, you can spend your career playing it safe, hanging back, being a yes man (or woman), and making sure your ass is always covered. We'll call that the "safe path." Or you can take risks, be passionate about what you believe in, speak up, stand up for what's right, and possibly commit political suicide in the process. We'll call that the "risky path."

Which path do you choose?

I, for one, chose the risky path, and it worked pretty well for me. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I didn't so much choose it as it chose me. That path always felt like it was part of me, in my blood. I could no more play it safe than I could change the color of my eyes from brown to green.

Let's assume that, unlike me, you have a choice. As much as I would like to influence that choice by telling you mine was the better way, I can't. The truth is that I have no idea.

For all I know some people aren't meant to rattle cages, challenge the status quo, throw caution to the wind. They either can't or don't wish to live their lives on a razor's edge.

Maybe it has to do with some sort of fear--of the unknown, of losing, or even of winning. Or perhaps they lack confidence in their ability to survive, let alone thrive, in an environment with no safety nets. On the other hand, the safe path will almost certainly mean less volatility, a more stable environment for family life. Maybe those folks aren't afraid, but just have a healthy survival instinct.

On the surface, the risky path appears to be a fearless, or even a morally superior one. But what if that's just a glamorous façade. Perhaps those who choose that path are taking unnecessary risks to fill some insatiable hole in their being. What if they do it to fulfill a deep self-loathing or desire to self-destruct?

The lack of clear answers that work for everybody is what makes this dilemma so interesting. The truth is that the answer is unique for each individual.

You see, many people go through their entire lives without being truthful with themselves about their feelings. They're either unaware of or deluded about their true motives, passions and fears. And that--failing to comprehend yourself and be true to yourself--is about the only mistake you can make in this dilemma.

One more thing. It's not a static question; the answer may change in time. That's because wisdom comes with age. As you get older, the excitement, distraction, and newness of youth gives way to thoughtfulness and introspection. That's just the way it works.

It's ironic that you're most able to comprehend your true self when your body is least capable of acting on the knowledge. Still, better late than never.

This reminds me of a chapter of the Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu:

He who knows men is clever
He who knows himself has insight
He who conquers men has force
He who conquers himself is truly strong

My advice is this: when you choose your path, whether it's risky or safe, be true to yourself and your feelings. Also, do it sooner rather than later. All too often, later has a funny way of turning into too late.