Hasty Judgment

“A hasty judgment is a first step to recantation.” ~ Publius Syrus

I have an acquaintance who is one of the most outstanding examples of someone who is hasty in judgment, but slow to recant. Both are curses to her and I wish there was some way that she could be free of one or both, for she is a dynamic, intelligent and otherwise capable person.

Some people are so convinced of the rightness of their perception of everything that they leave no room for the possibility that they may err in their interpretation of the facts. They see the world through a glass darkened by assumption and prejudice and they are quick to act as judge, jury and executioner in any situation they encounter.

Challenge such people on their assumptions – even with a presentation of the facts – and you are likely to be parried with defensiveness, arrogance, wide-eyed fanaticism or if the person is more passively inclined, with self-pity, shame, and other strategies that seek to convey the idea that “well, if I am wrong in this then I am a useless and worthless person” while deflecting attention and obfuscating the necessity of recanting.

More often than not, assumption stands between its possessor and the truth of the matter. If you base your argument on a faulty assumption, no amount of logic will steer you to the truth. Think of the seemingly unassailable arguments that supported the theory that there are six elements – carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorous, sulfur and nitrogen – elements essential to life. All of that vanished the other day with the announcement that a bacteria was found that used arsenic as a substitute for phosphorous.

If you are prone to jump to concussions – err, uh, conclusions – you are wise to reconsider your approach. You can only sustain so many head injuries before you are deemed to be as mad as a hatter.

If you base an argument on an assumption, do what you need to to verify those assumptions before building a house upon that foundation. To the best of your abilities, verify first hand. Don’t by swayed by the opinions or interpretations of others. Instead, ask, look, listen. Check, double-check, and look once again. If you’re wrong or unsure, it is much easier to recant before declaring your misperception publicly.

17 thoughts on “Hasty Judgment

  1. Foxglove

    Yes, and indeed there are some interesting reasons why the mind can be so quick to assume. One thought in contemporary psychology I find interesting is the matter related to cognitive bias, which is defined as ‘a pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations’: “Cognitive biases are instances of evolved mental behavior. Some are presumably adaptive, for example, because they lead to more effective actions in given contexts or enable faster decisions when faster decisions are of greater value. Others presumably result from a lack of appropriate mental mechanisms, or from the misapplication of a mechanism that is adaptive under different circumstances.”
    Regardless, we always should be able to stop and think when the opportunity permits, as many problems are avoided under more objective scrutiny. Nice topic to consider here…….

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  2. J.J.Mc

    I’ve had to recant on a number of occasions until I realized it was better to stop and think. Frankly sometimes I feel like I don’t have to take a position on a subject. The older I get the more I realize everything isn’t black or white and that sometimes I just flat out don’t know and that’s fine with me.

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  3. Marianne Brandon

    Isn’t amazing exciting to discover a greater understanding about someone or about how something works? Be willing to be surprised and leave room for more to be revealed. It seems to me the opportunity to recant is to declare one’s allegiance to staying true to the truth of the matter, whatever that reveals itself to be. Unfortunately there are personal agendas, industries, governments, scientific communities, etc. who would hold onto the already established precedent with a death grip. Plenty of practical starting points to change one’s personal direction here, and I’ve read many times in your column that it starts with you and me!

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    1. I’m surprised and amazed by my co-workers, my family and by the materials possessions temporarily under my care daily. The more room I give them in my heart and mind the more they fill in the blanks!

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  4. Ed Barnes, Sr

    This is a really well written piece. Many might have passed over that quote but you have given ample points for practical consideration and opportunity for self-improvement. I suggest readers dig up your posts on piloting as a good pilot could never make a hasty judgment based on false assumption without great risk to his own life and the life of others.

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  5. Colin

    I have been bitten by an assumption once or twice! I have a friend who does his best to not declare anything as a hard fact. He will say “in my opinion or, it seems that” but he won’t say he absolutely knows something, because he too has been burned by an assumption. I’m not quite sure this is the method I want to use. If I know something to be true (at least within the framework that I have at the time), I will say it, but I am always open to change and quick to recant if I was wrong. And the caveat is that as your framework changes, so should your paradigm. As in all things, there is a balance. The balance between working mostly off of assumption and never saying that you know anything for sure is there, but i think the trick is to weigh it very much towards never saying that you know anything for sure. Staying humble is a worthy goal.

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  6. Kai Newell

    I love the opening quote. I know there are times when I may be careless about talking about something as if it were fact and not subject to change. As a teacher I wonder how much disservice has been rendered to the memory of great people throughout history because of false assumptions, hasty judgments, thoughtlessness, confusion, whatever it might be. I’m just mentioning the seemingly more harmless ( but are they?) misunderstandings and not more
    gross violations such as rewriting history for political gain, etc. From a personal standpoint I can be more conscious to recognize the moment of false assumption, be willing to admit it may not be the case, and to do the work to come to a reasonable and educated conclusion about it. I also appreciate your compassion and lack of judgment for those who may be exercising hasty judgments and false assumptions, instead seeing the shortcoming for what it is and not losing sight of the person’s potential to be and do better. It’s the mark of a good leader, teacher and friend! Have a great day!

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  7. cinson01

    I think your last paragraph is a worthy checklist. There’s been a lot of buzz about us turning into a “skimming” society with the barrage of information at our fingertips on the Internet. It occurs to me that there can easily become a vicious cycle of hasty judgments about hasty judgments, all of which can be texted, tweeted or posted instantaneously and irresponsibly (or with calculation if the source is looking to mislead or incite). There is a saying “Garbage
    in, garbage out.” If it’s not a firm foundation, it’s definitely not a pretty regurgitation, not to
    mention it has the potential to ruin people’s lives.
    Thanks for the check points for your readers to responsibly err on the side of the truth and integrity.

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  8. RJ

    I think that for most people, judgment has a lot to do with pre-existing feelings relative to the individual in question. If the individual is someone we are fond of, we are much more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt and let the evidence be shown for what it really is. On the other hand, if he is someone we are not particularly on good terms with, we are much more likely to cling onto the first piece of information that reaffirms our dislike and then ignore all other possibilities.

    Take a step back, count to ten, and ask yourself if there are other ways to interpret the factors (there almost always are). Let your curiosity and imagination flow into new avenues and take a fresh look before you make up your mind.

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  9. Flow

    It’s sad the way we wall off opportunities through assumptions and judgement……… Appreciate the starting points for change.

    Thanks for highlighting the subject.

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