Unintended Consequences: Are we responsible for them?

Some consequences we are aiming for, some others we get by chance. I saw a post shared today about efficient ways how to get rid of moles in your garden. And then I looked over our perfectly done lawn and thought about unintended consequences. Since we bought our robotic lawn mower (which I already bragged about in My favorite stuff: Household items that simplify my life) moles don’t dare to dig in our garden. I don’t know if they are scared of the sound or of the vibration, but the point is – they don’t touch our lawn. From time to time you can see that they started digging in a corner, but a footstep later that trace just stops. It was not intended when we bought this lawn mower, but it is a nice unintended consequence.

However, the unintended consequences can also be negative. It is like that proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings on one continent and causes a hurricane on another. I cannot help but wonder if we can ever think our actions through good enough to take into account all possible consequences?

And what about words we say to our children, choices we make in life for them and for ourselves, choices we don’t make?… Every choice has its consequences. Every action has its consequences. Actually, even every word we say has its consequences. The ones we were aiming for, the ones we knew could be possible, but also the ones we might not have even thought of. There is a nice book about the choices we make and how they shape our lives (“One” by Richard Bach) with a lot of thought-provoking questions and ideas to ponder about.

For sure, we don’t have a crystal ball to tell us how the future will look like. But if we claim that we anyway cannot predict the future, does that mean that we cannot be held accountable for the unintended consequences of our words and actions? Or does it make sense to at least  from time to time pause and think about which “hurricanes” you might cause? 

During the MBA we had a course on Organizational Behavior. The final task of the course made us puzzled, yet in the end left all of us with a powerful message on responsibility for our decisions and actions. We had to write about unintended consequences of the introduction of milk quotas in Europe (milk quota was one of the measures used by the EU to bring rising milk production under control). I am proud to say that my final essay received 20 on 20 and ended up in the book with the best examples of Beyonder thinking. I didn’t write about the effects on other industries, nor about the consequences on the economy or anything like that. I wrote about the secret tears of hopelessness over spilled milk that has a sorrow flavor of sweat. I wrote about a little boy – the son of a farmer – who is mistakenly blaming himself for the tension he senses at home. I wrote about people, their emotions, their hopes, their thoughts, their fears. It is a difficult subject especially in the economical or socio-political context, as some tough decisions just need to be taken for the common good. However, this doesn’t exclude neither the need for thorough reflection, nor responsibility for the decisions themselves.

Of course, it is impossible to think through every potential consequence of everything. It is not needed either. One can argue that even the slightest choice we make – taking this or that road to the supermarket – can have consequences that would change our life forever. That’s true. Nonetheless, I do believe that for the words we say and choices we make in life for ourselves and for our kids, some additional reflection would never harm.


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