The cost of good men who do nothing




The politics of enablement: what can you do? What can I do to effect needed change?

What is the cost of men—some of them good men—who do nothing? For a start, the politicians we all know about and who we readily blame for doing nothing. But this is our story as well; we little guys watching the parade go by. The political arena is full of men who look the other way, who kick the can down the road or who feel emboldened to keep fighting on when the world says no. Is it only the politicians who stand out? What about us? Well this blog is about them—and also about us. This is self-reflection, my call to me to do more as an agent of change to create a better world.

The Challenger disaster

Covid had me watching the four part Challenger’s Last Flight docuseries last week as I was hacking away on my sofa. What struck me was the role of the ‘everyday man’ in the final outcome that resulted in the seven people losing their lives. The story focuses on the flawed design of the ‘O’ rings on the solid rocket boosters that failed to operate correctly in cold temperatures, and the engineers and managers who could have stepped in to delay the launch, fix the problem and avoid the disaster. Lack of action cost seven families their fathers, daughters, wives, and husbands.

no-one took a stand and seven people died

You might find this comparison dated and perhaps irrelevant. Not so. For me it exemplifies a system that is resistant to change, driven as it is by inertia and bound by political forces, money and career security.

Thiokol was the company that manufactured the ‘O’ rings. Their management suggested that the launch should not take place, although no careers were put on the line and they did not take a tough stand. A negotiation with NASA ensued. Back and forth it went. One engineer wrote a memo.

In the end, hundreds of people lost their jobs, and seven people lost their lives. I actually believe that any one of the little guys could have picked up the phone and called the media. It may have worked, it may not have, but it would have been a proactive stand to do something. The documentary focused on a discussion with the one engineer who wrote the memo in an attempt to cover himself should there be any problems. They interviewed his daughter who lamented the fact that her father suffered until he died, knowing he should have done more.

The director of NASA was also interviewed. To this day he is convinced that he was not to blame for launching Challenger, although it was his call. They could have waited a day, when the cold temperatures would have subsided. Space is a tough mistress, so they say. It’s dangerous work. It’s what he tells himself to help him sleep at night.


What in the world can I do ?

These situations are becoming more commonplace in our daily lives as we feel more disenfranchised from the societies we inhabit. Why should I do anything? This is more about the average Joe doing nothing, and the capacity we all have to do the right thing, or not, when called upon to act. The engineers at Morton Thiokol (the contractor), the managers at Thiokol could all have intervened. And what of NASA itself? The contractor directive prohibited launching at temperatures below 53°F.

Autocracies like Russia, China, or North Korea hold little hope for the common folk to effect change but, what of the so-called West, the so-called liberal democracies with freedoms entrenched in our various constitutions? What does it mean when we are lead by men who take us down the wrong path? Whether it’s Netanyahu in Israel, Trump or Biden in America, Orban in Hungary, Erdogan in Turkey, Macron in France or Trudeau in Canada?

The political cost of good men not taking action and not-so-good men taking action can be significant, as it often results in missed opportunities for positive change and the perpetuation of harmful policies or practices. When individuals in positions of power and influence fail to speak out or take a stand against injustice, corruption, or unethical behavior, they enable these issues to persist and thrive. This inaction can erode public trust in governance, leading to disillusionment with the political system and a sense of apathy among the population. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the apathy.

The political cost of good men not taking action and not-so-good men taking action can be significant.

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I would argue that laying the blame at the feet of politicians is way too easy. “Nothing to do with me.” “I didn’t vote for him.” I would argue that fear overrides our decisions to take action. Taking action doesn’t mean putting your life on the line, but it does mean to stand for something you know is right or to fight against something you know is wrong. For so many, it all boils down to pocket book issues: my money, my family my job. Is there something wrong about treating immigrants like animals? Is it OK to ban people from coming to your country because they don’t share your beliefs? Or is it right that the president of Ghana, Akufo-Addo, jails LBGTQ  persons for their sexual orientation?

I could spend this entire blog berating how society has enabled politicians, large corporations, and religious zealots to take us to the brink. But what about us, where could we have stopped the wheels from turning the wrong way? Where could we take a stand – us, little guys? When could we have done something good, or stopped something bad from happening?  It’s not always about them. In fact, most of the time, it really is about us. 

How can we let evil rise to the top? The sour creme de la crème

Donald J Trump: an arbiter of world chaos

Today we stand and watch as the wheels of western democracy come unglued. I think it’s fair game to single out Donald J Trump as an arbiter of world chaos. And the men who could have stopped him? What of their legacy? And Mitch McConnell, what does he tell himself? McConnell, who could have instructed his Republican Congress to impeach Trump twice, barring him from any future federal office. Well, this story is still being written and it will outlive him, I’m afraid. It is such a toxic example, in a political sense, that just this one guy could have ended Trump’s political fortunes, but he chose not to.

There are other western political leaders wreaking havoc, secondary troublemakers in my estimation. I leave it up to you to include your favorite politician, business or religious leader here, as men who have not been stopped and continue to wreak havoc.

I leave this writing with a thought and a question.

The thought: to suggest that we point our finger inward as injustice whirls about us.

The question: what can I do to effect a change that I feel must take place?

What am I doing to change things?

Part of what I’m doing is a call to action, the creation of The Whysmen Virtual Pub to connect men everywhere to talk about things that matter; to create ideas for change through connecting men worldwide, which may turn to actions. Even if just one man is inspired by these interactions to do something good, then I have been successful as an agent of change.

What in the world do you feel needs changing? What are you doing about it?

  • An excellent article, Paul. I think The Whysmen Virtual Pub is a good place to start, and a significant challenge for all who choose to not look the other way!

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