I had an experience today that illustrated one of my favorite paradoxes in ethics. There was a lady that was obviously lost at the hospital today. As is my habit I asked, "May I help you?" She immediately went into a tirade about how no one knows how to give directions around here, I've been walking around for 10 minutes, I'm late for my procedure now... Finally, I cut her off saying, "Where do you need to be?" thinking that time is of the essence.
She continued her rant, "The people at the desk told me to go down this hall, make a right, I did that and the people there told me I wasn't in the right place, so I came back to this hallway, etc."
"Ma'am, I am going to walk you to wherever you need to be, but I need to know where that is."
"They said it's by the main entrance."
"Oh that is right at the end of this hallway. Let's ask the information people here at the main entrance if they know where you need to be."
I begin, "Hi, this nice lady is having..." "I have been walking around lost for the last 10 minutes. Dr So-and-so is early and ready to start and I can't find the place, people should walk you to where you need to be, I was right over there at registration *I will spare you the continued 3 more minutes of complaining*"
We finally figure out she needs to go to the surgery waiting room, which is literally 5 steps from the main entrance. Where her husband is standing, waiting for her. I will not conjecture at this point that she probably didn't listen when the registration person told her that if she had a rock, she could hit it from where she was sitting. Perhaps our person received bad directions. That's not my point.
My point is that what she needed was to have her procedure done. What she wanted was to complain about how it was other people's fault that she was lost. The thing that she was doing was actually hindering her from achieving her real goal. Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People of the concept of win-win. I won't go into the details here, but the essence boils down to that in order for this to happen, people need to look deep and see what they really want. Here's a really poor example that I made up: Bob and John both want the corner office. Neither is budging. They talk it out and realize that what they both want is more room to meet with clients. John agrees to let Bob have the office and converts Bob's office into a casual meeting place. The aforementioned lady couldn't see past her need to vent about her frustrations to see that it was actually making her more late for her appointment. What she truly wanted was to be on time for her procedure. The behavior she was exhibiting was accomplishing the exact opposite.
The new year is fast approaching. I think I'm going to make my resolution to make sure that the things that I want are really the things that I want. Oh, and for those of you keeping score at home: the paradox is in the theory of Egoism. The theory says that people always do what is in their best interest. The paradox lies in the question, "Do people actually do what's in their best interest, or what they think is in their best interest; which may not actually be in their best interest?"