When ever we are faced with a situation, choosing the right thing to do can be difficult. What determines our course of action is not the context of the situation, but our own core values. The ‘context’ serve more as a distraction, or as a check to help us determine if our judgement on the situation is correct and inline with our core values?
Now let’s look at the following scenario devoid of context.
A railway line splits in to two separate tracks. On Track A there are four people trapped, and on Track B there is one person trapped. As stated above there is no other context. The train is thundering towards the two tracks with whistle blowing, lines shuddering and deafening noise. Everybody is screaming to be saved. We have 30 seconds to flick the switch and alter the course of the train. Do we flick the switch and save the four, or flick the switch and save the one? Remember there is no context so all things are equal.
In this situation I hope we would decide to save the four. Our core values (and maybe even a bit of basic math) would inform us that it is better to save a greater number of people, since we would hope that the benefit of saving a greater number of people would be the key driver in making a decision.
Now, let’s rewind to the beginning of the scenario and add some context. The four on Track A are unknown to you. The person on Track B is your mother!
How does the person on Track B being your mother alter the fact that it is better to save a greater number of people? It probably doesn’t. So what has changed? What is it that has suddenly made us want to ignore the principle of saving a greater number of people over the one? What has the ‘context’ done for us?