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Intelligent Disobedience!

One of the challenging parts of my job is to teach ethics to recruits. I make the point that the difficult decisions are not to choose between good and evil, but rather those situations where there is a conflict of values. The other area of tension for a military situation is when to disobey orders. The fact is there are times when the right thing to do is to break the rules.

This week in my reading I came across a great illustration of this dilemma. I have never been all that successful training dogs, but I am told that it can be done, as proved by the many great sheep dogs I have seen at work. When training dogs to work to guide blind people, they have two tests.

The first test deletes from the program those dogs who are unable to obey their masters. Obviously a dog that does not listen or take notice to what he is being told is pretty useless. But the next test rejects those dogs that ALWAYS do what they are told and ALWAYS obeys the rules. How is that fair?

Think about a blind man and his dog waiting to cross the street, waiting for the lights to change. When the light turns green the dog is trained to escort the man across to the other side of the road. However, if a car has failed to stop on his red light and is continuing, the dog has to make a decision. If he just follows the rules, which says “when light turns green – go”, he would be leading his master in front of a speeding car! Thus the program wants dogs who are “intelligently disobedient” who choose to disobey the rule he was taught – even if his master tells him to “go!”

We would like to think that people are more intelligent than dogs, but that is NOT always the case.  There are times when we too must be ‘intelligently disobedient’ if we are going to make the right ethical choice.

Chaplain Ian S Whitley

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