People Power: The dilemma: justice or mercy? - Jun 19

By Sam Allman

I’m sure you heard that for the first time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby the clear winner of the race was disqualified in a very controversial decision. Maximum Security initially finished first in the race, but the stewards overturned the result after it was determined the horse illegally drifted into the path of other horses. But, according to horse racing expert, Daryl G. Ezra, the track was sloppy and the jockey was clearly not trying to cut off the other horses. He called the decision by the stewards to disqualify “disgraceful.”

In addition, the owners of Maximum Security called the disqualification process “bizarre and unconstitutional” and said the lack of an appeals process violated their right to due process. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had stated that the stewards’ decision was not subject to appeal, and a request to stay the disqualification ruling pending appeal was denied. To make matters worse, the chief steward, Barbara Borden, read the statement about the biggest disqualification in horse racing history without explaining the process, as well as refusing to answer any questions. The owners of Maximum Security have since filed a lawsuit.

Of course, even our president had an opinion. He tweeted, “The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one. It was a rough and tumble race on a wet and sloppy track-a beautiful thing to watch. Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur. The best horse did not win the Kentucky Derby-not even close!”

You may be wondering, what does this all have to do with people power? The fact is, there are lessons and insights to be gained by considering and evaluating this controversy. Now, I’m no horse racing expert, but I have enjoyed watching the race over and over again. Clearly the best horse won and was disqualified. As a greenhorn, even I want to understand why the best horse was disqualified. Knowing the “why” in anything empowers people. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “If you know the why, you can live any how.”

As people we desire transparency from our leaders, our bosses and parents. Transparency motivates us to act and feel justified for our actions. Transparency builds trust. Without trust, we wonder, what is the motive and reasoning behind what others want us to do or accept? Regarding Maximum Security’s disqualification, for instance, a lack of transparency makes us question the motives of the stewards in their decision making. Refusing to talk about it makes it worse. If they want to clear up the controversy, they should explain the process and the very specific elements of their decision in a public setting. It is the very least they could do. After all, millions of dollars are at stake. It makes me wonder, besides the actual owners and riders, who else will benefit from the disqualification?

Now, let’s suppose there really was an infraction by the jockey and the horse Maximum Security. To me and many experts, it was obvious it didn’t affect the outcome of the race. By the way, I cannot believe that in the 145-year history of the race there were not similar infractions that were overlooked. With imperfect horses and jockeys, all kinds of possible weather and track conditions, the odds are high that many infractions occurred. Why is this the first time someone decided to enforce the rule? Was it political correctness that motivated the disqualification?

How does this issue with the Kentucky Derby give insight into dealing with, influencing or getting results through people? It brings to the forefront a dilemma and paradox that leaders, managers, parents and law enforcement must deal with on a daily basis. Is abiding by a rule or law more important than the people it was written to protect? Are company policies more important than the customers or the employees? Should we live by the letter of the law or the spirit of the law? At the highest level, it’s the dilemma between justice and mercy.

Every day, law enforcement officers make decisions on who to hold accountable for traffic violations. Have you ever been pulled over by the police for a violation and hoped for mercy? Did you accept responsibility and say, “Yes, I did it. I will take my punishment,” or did you make excuses, hoping not to be held accountable? Have you ever had one of your children beg for mercy for coming home late, lying or doing something unacceptable? What was your dilemma? Punishment or forgiveness? Justice or mercy?

Most of us have learned from past experiences that not holding employees or children accountable for their actions perpetuates the violation of rules or policy. If people are not held accountable for the consequences of their actions, they will not become responsible for them. I have a good friend who would always protect her son from punishment or justice. At home, he was never held accountable for his poor behavior; at school she fought his battles and blamed the teachers when his actions were deemed unacceptable. Eventually, she lost the ability to protect him when he was sentenced to prison.

So, which is more important, justice or mercy? Of course, that depends. It depends on the person or child, the circumstance or context, the nature of the violation, and of course, it depends on the consequences of non-compliance. There are some rule violations that are difficult to forgive because of the seriousness of the consequences.

For many of us, being accountable is difficult. We don’t want the punishment. We scream for mercy because we want the benefit of the doubt when there isn’t any. We blame others for our actions or at least try to justify them. It’s what I call the blame, shame and justify game. One of the basic characteristics of those with people power is the readiness and willingness to accept personal responsibility for their actions.

It’s interesting to see those who blamed everyone else or the conditions for the infractions at the Derby. As I have written many times, blame is a self-defeating behavior because it does alleviate our responsibility, but at the same time, it makes us feel like victims and leads to helplessness. What do helpless people do? Nothing! Who do you know that blames everyone else for their problems? Are they evading the consequences of their actions? They are living a game of self-deception. As a leader or parent, we know that lack of accountability leads to mediocrity. People power requires us to finesse these contrary principles of justice and mercy. Which is the most important? Again, that depends. It’s not an easy and clear-cut decision. Maybe it’s a combination of both at the same time. It requires critical thinking to decide.

There are several associated dilemmas related to the struggles between justice and mercy that are important to also understand. Justice implies that people are not only punished for their actions and the consequences of them, but sometimes, rewarded for them as well. If people do something well and produce results, justice demands that they should reap the benefits. By the same token, mercy implies compassion, sympathy and forgiveness for actions and consequences. It may include a reduced punishment. It may even include rewarding when it is undeserved. The corollary to the justice or mercy dilemma is how much does one help and forgive versus letting justice prevail by letting others deal with the consequence of their actions.

The misapplication of justice or mercy can lead to some undesirable consequences. For example, justice and fairness expect that an employee or child should reap the benefits of his or her own efforts. If he or she is not rewarded, and, by the way, recognition is a reward, it can affect the individual’s motivation to continue to work hard and produce. Perhaps you have heard someone say, “Doing a good job here is like wetting your pants in a dark suit. It gives you a nice warm feeling, but no one else notices.” That’s why collective societies struggle with the productivity of their people.

The same applies to the over-application of mercy. Passion, sympathy and altruism drive mercy. Mercy cares about people and their suffering. Merciful people focus on alleviating suffering. In an effort to alleviate the suffering of children and build self-esteem, well-meaning adults decided everyone gets a trophy. Everyone is a winner. The problem is that is not real life. As adults, we face winning, losing and failure every day. I believe that “everyone receives a trophy” has created a generation that feels entitled. Our younger generation is moving this country toward socialism where “economic equality” is the goal. Why not? Capitalism is mean and leaves some people behind. But, mercy’s overuse creates entitlement and dependency, and sabotages productivity. Again, which is most important, justice or mercy?

Another over-use of mercy is giving people something unearned or protecting people from failure. I learned early as a parent that my children valued and took more pride in things that they earned through their own efforts than things that I handed them. When people are in need, it is important that they are helped. But doing things and giving things that can be done and earned by the person in need creates dependency and entitlement.

I believe failure is a great learning tool. It is proven that you can fail your way to success. Learning to walk requires persistence, falling and getting up multiple times. How long does it take to learn to walk? It takes as long as it takes. Protecting people from failure by micromanaging or sparing them from the suffering of failure does not always help them. Life is hard and difficult. We need people to learn to be self-reliant. The fruit of self-reliance is personal dignity. There is nothing more satisfying than saying, “I did it myself.” By the same token, we all will need help at some time. We need merciful people around us to protect us. The world needs more merciful and altruistic people. No matter how self-reliant we are, we can’t do it alone.

Like I said earlier. I’m no expert on horse racing. I really don’t know whether justice was served or whether mercy should have been applied at this year’s Kentucky Derby. But I do know how understanding the dilemma between justice and mercy and learning how to finesse them simultaneously can give leaders, parents and employers great power to change the world one person at a time. The fact is both are important. Finessing them properly requires critical thinking and a mindfulness of the potential outcomes-not an easy task.

Copyright 2019 Floor Focus