Over the past one year, we have re-cultivated this habit of eating dinner as a family.  Some of these dinner days, we debate and take positions on some topics.

One of those days I introduced my kids to the classic ‘trolley problem’ which is described below.

“The thought experiment—called the trolley problem—has over the past few years gotten enough attention to be approaching “needs no introduction” status. But it’s not quite there, so: An out-of-control trolley is headed for five people who will surely die unless you pull a lever that diverts it onto a track where it will instead kill one person. Would you—should you—pull the lever?”

(Courtesy of the above definition – The Atlantic)

I posed to my son and daughter this problem. Both of them had no hesitation in saying that they would pull the lever. I asked them why and they said it was five lives against one.  They seem to have an innate understanding of the theory of Utilitarianism or possibly they feel that it is the right thing to do out of their own convictions.

I added a twist to this problem. I posted them the question again with just one change. “What if that one lone person was your dad ?”

My son did not blink an eyelid. He said that he will not pull the lever. I ask him what happens to the five people and he just looks up at me and says ‘You are more important’.

My daughter deliberated, continues to deliberate, debates with me to give me more choices , still refuses to answer, but I think she will pull the lever. She does not have the heart to say it though.

In a similar vein, I pose them three familiar questions from our epics, that I am sure most of us have pondered in some way or the other


  • Were the Pandavas right in fighting their own cousins and gurus ?
  • Was Karna justified in staying with Duryodhana, after realising that the was the eldest of the Pandavas ?
  • Was Kumbhakarna justified in fighting for Ravana ? ( If you have by any chance read the Kambar version of the Ramayana, the dialog between Kumbhakarna and Ravana goes down as the finest pieces of poetry and prose that makes you wonder , are these folks really the asuras ? After reading that I became an unabashed fan of Kumbhakarna! )


Dinner topic aside , what would the biases moral choices that I have made or  I will make ?

How did my kids arrive at their choices ? We have not trained or influenced them in any way.

I guess the order would be

Me, Myself, Family, Friends, Rest…


I compare the above credo of mine the credo of the Indian Military Academy

“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time”.

And that is the reason every time I see a soldier, my hand automatically goes for a salute.


Well coming back to the trolley problem, my answer would be the same as my son.


What is your answer to the modified version of the trolley problem ?

Do you have any biases behind your moral choices ?


Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)