Saturday, March 03, 2012

The ends usually trump the means...

If you've heard the expression, "The ends justify the means," you've probably heard it in a negative context.  That is, "The ends don't justify the means."  This reaction is completely appropriate to the situation to which this saying is usually applied.  You are trying to help poor Joe get out of foreclosure so you break into rich Sally's house to steal some money.

These sorts of situations do pop up from time to time, but it occurred to me that most of the time, the means aren't the important thing, but the end.  That is, the most effective person (and usually the smartest person) is the one who is focused on the outcome rather than the process of getting to the outcome.

There are two important caveats here.  One is that there are immoral ways of getting to a goal.  That's where the saying, "The end doesn't justify the means," comes in.

A second important caveat is that process can be very important in effectively reaching a goal.  In fact, the real purpose of good process is to make it easier to reach the goal. The larger a goal, the larger an organization, the more important it becomes to have good processes in place. There are certain small church pastors whose churches will never get much beyond 100, if that much, because they are unable to set up processes that do not involve them at the center of everything.

But the bane of traditional institutions is not individual initiative and creativity.  Institutions--especially academic institutions--are notorious for loving process, for loving the means and never getting to the ends.  It's the all too familiar enjoyment of loving to talk about things without ever making a decision or implementing anything.  I have a saying, "Only people who don't like meetings should be allowed to lead meetings."

(I was in a meeting at a Christian college in Pennsylvania once and was fascinated that the President seemed to be an entrepreneur and the Academic Dean was a "process" type person--probably a good combination.  The President there, as I recall, was making the college move into the online arena.  Meanwhile, the Dean was dotting the i's and crossing the academic t's--it was fascinating to me.)

Process is only valuable if it gets us more quickly or efficiently to the goal.  Focus on process for its own sake is stupidity.  Most of the time, it doesn't matter whether you take Nebraska St. or Baldwin Ave.  But the person who cuts across the grass path will get there faster than the one who takes the pretty sidewalk that winds around. The ends usually trump the means in our day to day decision making.

P.S. I like to think that Hitler's early successes were because he was a good planner... and I would like to think that the ultimate Allied victory was because we were good improvisers.

1 comment:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You are not agreeing to Kant's "ideal" of humans being an end in themselves, then. ;)...obviously, people are who "get the job done", so people as ends in themselves is not a practical matter, is it?

As to your comment, "P.S. I like to think that Hitler's early successes were because he was a good planner... and I would like to think that the ultimate Allied victory was because we were good improvisers." Are you suggesting that Facist's goals (dictator approach) is a good means to "improvise" (and build character in the process, which is really the issue, isn't it)? Does it matter that the rule of law, or the "equal right" of another citizen wasn't considered, as respecting the citizen's right to negotiating or suggesting alternatives, as it concerns their life? Then, we might as well not have contracts or laws, protecting citizens. And it reminds me of what is happening in our society at large.

Just yesterday, I posted on FB about the individual mandate concerning healthcare. I do not believe that the public arena has a right to encroach upon private liberties, otherwise, we do not live in a society that protects or respects individual liberties, nor the rule of law (that being our Bill of Rights).

I do not believe this, though Christians would like to theologize such "grabs for power" as "God's Providence" and "working for good", ETC.! Hogwash! Such "grabs for power" are arrogance. Arrogance of opinion might not be consciously held, but nevertheless are presumptions upon lives that limit choice and values.... this is not right by any "sleight of hand" or philosophical argument. You, Angie, Stephanie, Tom, Sophie, or "Tom, Dick or Harry" have protections under the law, or at least, that was my understanding of our Constitutional government last I "heard"....