I asked my question: “How do you know the right thing to do?”
I was being allowed to help interview several candidates for a position of leadership in the progressive movement. We posed several questions to them, and that was mine.
All of the interviewees answered unhesitatingly, as they had with all the other questions. One of them began with, “My grandpappy used to say… and went on to spin a tale of rural wisdom.” Another began, “I have always felt… and went on to talk about being consistent in one’s attitudes.” The good one, my clear choice for the position, answered thusly:
“There is no right thing to do. To suggest following some “right thing” is to reveal our reliance on the world of abstract ideas, religion, superstition or, in plain language, our subjective feelings. No “right thing” exists, but some choices are better than others. When alternatives are weighed, I strive to get the best choice that fits the given time and situation for working families. Working families are our North Star, our guide.”
I thought that was a very good answer for someone who wanted leadership in the progressive movement. If we had been interviewing for something else, the answer might have been simpler. For example, if we were looking for someone to lead a corporation, they would have all said that “increasing shareholder wealth” was their guide.
My favorite then added even more value to her response: “I have to add to my answer about finding the better choices. While I am choosing the better option, I have to also keep in mind that unfolding developments are the only sure way to test my choice. One cannot be certain of the future. When we make a choice, we have to remain open to pulling back, admitting failure, and gearing up to try something else.”
The other candidates disqualified themselves because they had not realized that mine was a trick question. There is no “right thing.” There are only choices that are better or worse. Additionally, even with the best of intentions, we may have to choose again.