Thursday, September 27, 2012

Acting Opportunistically

 Acting Opportunistically
To discuss acting opportunistically I will take a relatively simple and everyday example that occurred several weeks ago. While at work I was cleaning the floors and I found a wallet on the ground. The wallet was full of cash and other valuable items. If I was acting opportunistically in this situation I would have simply taken out the cash and anything else of use and maybe even thrown the wallet out as it was then of no use from me. Through that I would have taken advantage of my circumstances; I had a choice that would have granted me benefit with essentially no downsides. However, I did not take advantage of these circumstances. I instead opted to hand the wallet in with all of its contents to my manager.

While this may be a simple example it displays the issue at hand clearly. One choice has all utility gains with essentially no losses and the choice I made wasn't clearly the optimal one. However, there were several reasons that could have compelled me to make the choice I did. One is that it was ethical, a lost wallet that had many of someone's belongings in it would have been wrong for me to take. It is private property belonging to someone else and exploiting their mistake would have been unethical. Another reason I returned the wallet to my manager could have been that it was my first shift and I was trying to prove myself as an honest and trustworthy employee. While my manager would never have known that I took the wallet, he now knows that I am honest and wouldn't do something unethical like that. So in that respect the alternative I chose did have some benefit associated without, albeit more intangible and not guaranteed, it is still present.

The several explanations for not acting opportunistically provided in the blog prompt have differences among them but they all share something similar. None of them is completely selfless although they appear to be. Each of them has some benefit attached to it, even if it is not something that can be tangibly realized. Being a "good citizen" gives a person a sense of self-righteousness, they feel better about themselves and neglect feeling any guilt that may have resulted from a different choice. They also are indirectly contributing to a healthier community, if their decision affected a small community then they may feel that contribution more. The unethical explanation is similar, the avoidance of guilt and feeling of self-righteousness are major draws to not acting in an opportunistic manner. Lastly, acting under the philosophy of "good things come to those who wait" is simply a mantra of delayed gratification. The person opting to avoid the opportunistic choice is doing such simply because they think they will receive some benefit in the future. Because of the above reasoning, I would say that each of the three possibilities share many similarities and are not all that different.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting story. In graduate school I was the guy who lost the wallet and the person who found it came to where I worked to return it to me. It was completely selfless behavior on his part.

    I want to challenge you a bit on what you wrote in the last paragraph, particularly about the avoidance of guilt. Instead of the case you look at, consider the decision whether to eat the last piece of chocolate cake in the fridge, and the piece was meant for you, so ethics is no an issue.

    It may nonetheless be that you do battle with yourself with your intuitive side saying go for it and get the immediate pleasure and your thoughtful side wondering whether you need the sugar high and the extra calories. If inner battle is a reasonable description, perhaps it is also reasonable to assert that each side wins on occasion. Guilt feelings then might exist to give a boost to the thoughtful side, which otherwise would lose much of the time.