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And When There Are No Good Options?

February 13, 2020

You are standing by a railroad switching point. Theres’ an oncoming train. Down the track, too far way to warn them in time, is a group of five people. They will almost certainly die if the train isn’t diverted.

You have the ability to divert the train to an alternate track. On the alternate track too far away to warn him in time is a single person. He will almost certainly die if you divert the train.

What do you do?

It’s a test you are designed to fail. There isn’t a right or good answer. There are only varying degrees of bad.

Star Trek is a fictional Universe. None of the actual star ships exist. Within the Star Trek universe, there are also ships that do not exist. The most famous Star Trek ship that doesn’t actually exist in the Star Trek universe is the Kobayashi Maru.

The Kobayashi Maru is also the name of a training exercise at Star Fleet Acadamy. Cadets are told that the Kobayashi Maru is disabled in the neutral zone, a DMZ with the rival Klingon empire. It’s sending out a distress signal.

Should the training crew violate the neutral zone to rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru? Or should they let the crew face certain capture by the Klingons?

If the cadet decides to violate the neutral zone and rescue the crew, the Kobayashi Maru goes silent and three very angry, very deadly Klingon ships appear and kill the cadet’s ship.

The point of the exercise is to test cadets in a no win situation. No right or good answer, just varying degrees of bad.

In 1979 Orson Scott Card wrote a short story called Deep-Breathing Exercises. Over the course of his story, the main character, Dale Yorganson realizes he has a unique ability. He can recognize when people are breathing in unison. And he soon discovers that when people are breathing in unison those people are going to soon die.

Yorganson finds himself in a restaurant and realizes everyone is breathing in unison. He rushes out of the restaurant just before it explodes.

At the end of the story, Yorganson realizes that everyone around him is breathing in unison. He tries to escape, but no matter where he goes, he is still breathing in unison. Turning on the TV he realizes that a nuclear bomb is headed for his town. There is no way to escape the blast zone in time.

We don’t like to consider no win scenarios. But, as parents we often have them.

My children range in age from 31 years to my two youngest at 17 years old. Some of my kids made good choices out of high school. Some made bad choices out of high school.

No kid goes straight to a bad decision. It’s almost always a path that has a starting point and an trajectory. And after raising a dozen kids, my lovely wife and I have some small experience in watching kids start on those paths.

One of the most frustrating positions to be in as a parent is to watch one of your children starting on that path and realizing that like the cadets facing the Kobayashi Maru, or Dale Yorganson when he finds himself breathing in synch with everyone else, there is nothing you can do.

We are standing at the train switch. And we pray that we make the right decision.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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