Property may be destroyed and money may lose its purchasing power; but, character, health, knowledge and good judgement will always be in demand under all conditions. —Roger Babson
We all make errors in judgement; most are not terribly big and their impact does not extend beyond ourselves. No big deal, right? We learn our lesson and, more often than not, avoid making the same mistake again.
Other times, though, those errors in judgement are more critical. For a photographer, they most often come down to whether or not we take a specific shot. We don’t always have time to mull over the consequences or poll all the parties involved. You see something happening, something you know is significant, and you have to make a decision. Now. Without consultation. It is in those moments that character and good judgement matter.
While we can excuse ourselves, and each other, of momentary lapses in judgement, we expect more from our world’s leaders. In fact, good judgement and character are two of the most fundamental characteristics we typically demand of anyone holding public office. Being a leader inherently involves making decisions under pressure, using careful diplomacy and selecting just the right vocabulary without implying undue aggression. Without some manner of care and good judgement, we could easily find ourselves in conflicts we could easily lose.
Consider the kerfluffle currently surrounding the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Normally a very careful person, she is typically aware that any statement she makes publicly is likely to be dissected differently by everyone listening. Apparently, though, her personal opinions don’t always match her official statements. At least, that seems to be the case as she was recorded being critical of Chinese diplomats during their visit to Great Britain last year. The circumstances, a garden party at Buckingham Palace, in a light rain, were such that the queen quite likely was not aware that she was being recorded. When she agrees with a senior police officer that the behaviour of the Chinese toward British ambassador Barbara Woodward was rude, the whole world took notice. As small and unassuming a statement as it was, made in what was assumed to be a private conversation, the result could have long-term detrimental effect on UK-Chinese relations.
That’s not the only matter of judgement that has blown up in the face of our British friends of late. Just prior to an international summit in London on political corruption in government, Prime Minister David Cameron was heard telling Queen Elizabeth that two countries attending the summit, Nigeria and Afghanistan, are “possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.” Never mind that the Prime Minister’s statement was correct. In Transparency International’s 2015 corruption perception index, Afghanistan lists near the bottom at 167, ahead of only Somalia and North Korea, Nigeria was at 136. Yet, 10 Downing Street has spent the time since attempting to walk back the statement and one can imagine that introductions at the summit this morning were likely quite tense.
Every decision we make reflects upon who we are as a person and our judgement reveals the truth of our character. Can we be trusted to tell the truth when it matters? Will we make the correct decision in a critical situation? Those matters of judgement are important when what one does has the potential to affect millions of people. One needn’t even be an elected official for those moments of critical thinking have to be precise and correct.
For example, counterfeiting of luxury fashion brands is a global problem costing billions of dollars. Battling the problem has proven challenging as the ability to crack down on pirates in Asian countries, especially China, has been difficult. So, when Washington, D. C.-based International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition admitted Chinese Internet super company Alibaba to the group last month, more than a few companies were upset. Both Gucci and Michael Kors have left the coalition, and others may follow. Why? Many of those same companies are suing Alibaba in federal court for “knowingly encouraging and profiting from the sale of counterfeit goods on its e-commerce platforms,” according to the Associated Press. Admitting Alibaba was a judgement call by the IACC that may ultimately affect the price of luxury goods around the world if that decision proves to impede a solution to counterfeiting.
Then, there’s the case of Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry. Apparently Mr. Henry uses Twitter’s direct messaging feature to chat back and forth with his followers. One of those followers happened to be a stripper in Las Vegas. After several exchanges, she invited Mr. Henry to visit her at the club where she works. He did. So far, no harm, no foul, assuming Mr. Henry was being honest with his wife. A lot of married guys go to strip clubs. But then, the two took the relationship further into a full-blown affair that lasted over a year. Then, both InTouch and the National Enquirer got a hold of the story. Still, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a private matter for Mr. Henry to address with his family, no?
Apparently not. Ed’s boss, Fox News chief Roger Ailes told the Washington Post, “This raises serious questions about Ed’s lack of judgement, especially given his position as a journalist.” As much as I often dislike Mr. Ailes, he understands the true gravity of the situation. In his position as a White House correspondent, Mr. Henry has to make quite and critical decisions as to which stories are important and which are not. He influences the information and perspective of news delivered to millions of people. If his judgement is lacking anywhere then one has to question whether he is making similar mistakes on the job.
As I said at the beginning, for the millions of us who are not public servants, who are not responsible for dispensing critical information, whose actions are not likely to affect global markets, our errors in judgement affect very few people and very few people have any reason to care. When those errors are committed by someone who holds an element of public trust, however, no matter what it may be, those judgement calls become extremely important.
We are looking at one of the nastiest presidential elections ever this year. When we consider the judgement of the two leading participants in that race, we have every reason to be worried. One has been married three times, and on at least one of those occasions was nothing short of cruel in dispatching his wife. Another has played light and loose with classified information and implemented policies and procedures that, at the very least, challenged foreign relations and, possibly, might have contributed to the endangerment of American lives abroad.
Good judgement matters. Even the head of Fox News knows good judgement matters. Do we really want to elect a president whose judgements have repeatedly been grossly and dangerously flawed? Don’t we deserve better?
You know we do.