INSPIRATIONAL, 21 Sep 2015
One can distinguish between two concepts of responsibility, in the narrow sense of someone who has caused a problem, and in the wider sense of anyone who can correct a problem, even if he or she has not caused it, as the following story told by Roger Fisher illustrates.
During World War II, he was assigned to an air force unit. On day, they were given the task of testing a plane that had been fitted with a new engine. The test pilot had twice before his license revoked for reckless flying, but he had gotten it back. As the plane was high up in the air, he turned off one of the four engines. The plane flew fine. He turned off a second and third engine, and the plane barely managed to stay in the air. To frighten the others on the plane a little, he turned off the fourth engine for a moment, and the plane began to dive towards the rocks on the ground.
Then he wanted to turn on the engines again. Nevertheless, nothing happened. He frantically turned the ignition key, but nothing worked. Suddenly he remembered that to have power in the battery, at least one of the four engines had to be running.
Fortunately, a technician in the back of the plane remembered that they had an emergency diesel generator on board, intended to be used to start the plane in places without electricity on the ground, like in Greenland. He connected it to the battery, and the pilot could start the plane just in time before a crash landing.
In the narrow sense, this problem was only the pilot’s responsibility, he alone had created it, but it affected everyone on the plane. In a wider sense, all who can do something to correct the problem, even if they have not caused it, should feel responsibility to do so. Peace workers, who have not started a war or intensified a conflict, but seek ways to resolve it peacefully, feel responsibility in the wider sense.
Dietrich Fischer, born in 1941 in Münsingen, Switzerland, got a Licentiate in Mathematics from the University of Bern 1968 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from New York University 1976. 1986-88 he was a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University. He has taught mathematics, computer science, economics and peace studies at various universities and been a consultant to the United Nations.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Sep 2015.
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