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Q. I’m taking over my parents’ business but am still thinking about going to college, even though I won’t need a college degree to run the business. Should I go, or is it a waste of time and money?

A. This sounds like a happy situation, and I sense eager anticipation on your part as you look forward to the transition of taking over your parents’ business.

Saving time and money by starting in the business right away sounds like an efficient way to go. You probably already know a lot about how things are run, and your parents would certainly be able to fill in any missing gaps.

However, what it took for them to build the business historically may not look the same in the future. Marketing, to site just one example, has migrated to the web and social networking sites from strictly print media. Dealing with the rapid and insistent rate of change is where college comes in. By attending college first, you will be equipping yourself with critical thinking skills as well as foundational business knowledge—essentials for remaining facile in the midst of unexpected challenges. Add in mastering effective communication skills, increasing your network of friends and acquaintances, plus learning to think across disciplines, and you have a powerful case for education before work. That said, you might consider a range of options, from two- to four-year colleges and even certification programs.

Though the specifics are not clear, we can plan on a future where learning as a lifestyle will be the norm.

—Bonnie Speyers

Christian Morality

Q. Where I work there is an unwritten rule that managers are better off if decisions are made by groups rather than by individuals. If a decision by an individual leads to unfortunate consequences, the individual bears a full share of responsibility. If a decision by a group leads to unfortunate consequences, the individual members bear smaller shares of responsibility. Is this unwritten rule in conformity with the principles of ethics?

A. The view you are describing is called “ethical dilutionism”: the greater the number of participants in wrongdoing, the small the degree of each participant’s moral responsibility for the results of the wrongdoing. It is an unwritten rule in many organizations. Unfortunately, I know of no scriptural support for this principle, and I am aware of no professional ethicists who endorse it.

In some situations this view is plainly counterintuitive. For example, say that two assassins acting independently fire at a public figure from opposite sides of a crowd. The bullets strike her simultaneously, and either bullet would have killed her. Claiming that the responsibility of each assassin is reduced by the fortuitous presence of the other is not plausible.

Even in situations where people are acting cooperatively, the principle appears false. Two boys are attempting to vandalize church property. Each throws a rock at a window, and the rocks strike the window simultaneously. Can one reasonably argue that their responsibility is diluted because they acted together? That seems dubious.

Sometimes the decision is made to split the burden of making restitution among the participants. The two boys might each pay half the cost of replacing the window, and that might seem a fair way to resolve the problem. But we would be mistaken to conclude that each boy is less responsible for the broken window than if he had broken it single-handedly.

The same is true of managers. A manager is responsible for what he or she does, and this is true (other things being equal) irrespective of whether others are acting in like manner. One can attempt to make excuses by an appeal to ethical dilutionism, whether to friends or while standing before the pearly gates, but that will probably be an exercise in futility.

—Greg Mellema

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