Being an engineer/journalist and remembering my New York University student days at the Bronx, NY Heights campus from 1968-1972 when I became “socially aware”, I have had many experiences during my life when the choice to do what people, managers and others urged me to do something underhanded, sneaky or convenient and sometimes bordering on criminal, but my conscience and moral compass said otherwise. Such choices tug at our urge to get ahead in a profession or make more money vs. “doing the right thing”. I can honestly say that my upbringing and early experiences have always led me to select the latter choice. Not that it was always easy, because it wasn’t—there is always that temptation to take the easy way to get what you want.
I bring this up because a good friend of mine brought to my attention an incident that happened in 1986 that shocked the world and shook my engineering fiber to the core: The Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy. My friend told me that National Public Radio or NPR just published an excellent piece focusing upon an 89 year old Morton Thiokol engineer named Bob Ebeling and his story.
Mr. Ebeling’s experience and story happens every day somewhere in the world of engineering (and in other professions as well, of course) and the struggle between what a person knows is the “moral” choice to select against what one knows might benefit them personally in some way or form when the two are mutually exclusive. Mr. Eberling made the “moral” choice in good conscience, but still today suffers from the question, “Did I do enough?” The recent final outcome was a good one for him (although with still with some tinge of sadness).
As engineers and just people in general, we need to make such decisions more often than we might like, but I trust that the great majority of us, being rational and precise in our thinking, will make the right choice. Jason Bowden wrote a neat blog on the engineering mind on Planet Analog, An Engineer’s Mind: Were We Born This Way?
What about National Public Radio? Since I came to be aware of NPR in the late 60s, I have always listened to and read their reporting and used it to balance out what I hear in the media on television, radio and now the Internet. NPR’s roots go back to the 20’s when colleges and universities used early radio to help “change the world” (Didn’t we all want to do that in our Sophomore year?) I feel that it is a good idea to be aware of what is going on around us locally and in the vast world we live in. In order to do that in an unbiased way, we should select multiple sources, even internationally, to put together for the real truth which will be somewhere within all of these sources.
What do you think?