Captain Hindsight

There’s a character from the popular sitcom South Park called Captain Hindsight. For those who’ve not seen it, Captain Hindsight is a super hero (of sorts) who shows up to the scene of a disaster while it’s taking place. He then “helps” the people in need by making a stirring speech about all the ways everyone should have acted to prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place. Afterwards he flies away while everyone cheers hysterically, despite the fact he didn’t actually help anyone.

The reason I love this skit is because of how accurately it portrays our society at large. The way we all love to have such strong opinions after the fact. The way we complain about how our government has failed us or how incompetent our colleagues were, before declaring how they should have done this, that or what-the-fuck ever. All without doing diddly-squat except have an opinion (says the man sitting behind a keyboard).

Of course talking about lessons we sorely need to learn isn’t a problem, but I do believe the way we seek to attribute blame is. The way we like to sit on our high horse of righteousness and declare how superior we are. How we go on the offensive instead of looking to assume any kind of collective responsibility for our current state of affairs. 

I believe this kind of blame culture blinds us. 

For one, those who are responsible become less inclined to own that responsibility, to put up their hand when they’ve made a mistake. They also play the blame game in an attempt to deflect any shame placed on them by others. It also blinds those who point the finger from understanding how they might have been complicit. Like blaming those who voted for such and such instead of acknowledging the role they had avoiding difficult conversations in the past, or how looking down on others has only strengthened respective positions and deepened the divide…

Anyway this got me thinking, maybe part of our problem is the way we think about hindsight. The idea that hindsight is always 20/20. That maybe it would be better for all us to consider the possibility our hindsight isn’t nearly as clear sighted as we think. To think that maybe hindsight is rarely 20/20.

With that in mind I want to tell you a little story. 

Earlier this year while flying an approach my crew and I found ourselves in a spot of bother after a number of events left us high on final approach. As a result of then having to ‘capture the approach path from above,’ we ended up busting our stabilised approach criteria. To put it simply, we were too fast. 

In our attempt to configure the aircraft and “get the job done,” however, we became distracted and missed the check height at which we should have gone around (abandoned the approach). Instead we continued to landing. 

Now I should stress that the speed came back and we landed safely. We got everything done, just later than we should have. But that’s not the point. The right recourse was to go around and we didn’t. It was a honest mistake but, there’s no two ways about it, we fucked up. (And cue Captain Hindsight to tell us exactly what we should have done).

About a week later, back in Hong Kong, the rest of the crew and I were called into work to undergo an ‘operational learning review.’ The sole goal of which was to learn from a safety perspective, to understand what had happened and why. All in keeping with what is known as a “Just Culture.”

For those who’ve not heard of the term, “in a Just Culture both employees and company accept accountability for their actions and learning from events, and the intention is that no one will face punitive action for any unpremeditated or inadvertent error or mistake.”

Anyway one of the more valuable lessons came from comparing what we thought had happened to what had actually happened as demonstrated by the flight data. How all of us had a somewhat, shall we say, favourable recollection of events. But also how all of us had quite different recollections from each other. This is what really hit home for me. Our extraordinary propensity to misinterpret past events. It made me realise that hindsight is most definitely not 20/20.

But there was something else I took from this experience. Something for which I’m extremely grateful. That was the manner in which our company took responsibility for our mistakes. The way our Chief Pilot took responsibility by trying to understand exactly what had happened and why. The way our flight operations department took responsibility by trying to understand what holes might exist in our procedures. The way our training department took responsibility by trying to understand whether the way we’ve been trained needed changing. But also the way our Captain emailed the fleet office immediately after the flight and fessed up. It started with him assuming a position of complete responsibility. All of which encouraged me to do same.

When I look back I realise how easy it would have been for all of us to play the blame game. How easily I could have pointed at the finger at the Captain. Or how easily the company could have made scapegoats out of us. Instead learning in the interest of safety came first. Blame didn’t even enter into the equation. This is exactly what a Just Culture was designed to engineer – a sense of collective responsibility. I believe it works. I believe this is why Aviation has such an outstanding safety record.

I also believe it’s exactly this kind of culture we’d do well to implement more of in the real world. As the year draws to a close I’m hoping we might look back on 2020 as the year where we finally realised the need to come together. As the year we understood that when we take a position of collective responsibility, when all of us put our hands up and look at the ways in which we have failed – even if we weren’t the ones flying the aircraft – that we all stand to benefit. That it is only when we do, that we can say with any kind of certainty that hindsight is, in fact, 2020.


Thank you so much for reading everyone. I’m curious what you think. Is our certainty in retrospect granted or is it, perhaps, foolish? What about engineering a culture of collective responsibility? How might we do that? As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions. Wishing you all well, AP2 x

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You can see more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

A Story For My Children About The Value Of Honesty, Love And Forgiveness

The following is a letter I wrote to my son two years ago, shortly before he was born. I thought I’d share the story this Father’s Day in the hope others might also gain something from what was one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn. For a number a reasons I also wanted to remind myself of the importance being honest has in holding all of us accountable. To remind myself to be honest, not only with myself, but my family too. The major reason is my most gorgeous wife is pregnant with our second child. This letter is for both of them. Before I continue I’d also like to acknowledge my own father whose love and forgiveness has helped save me from the brink on more than one occasion, including this example. To him and everybody else, have a very Happy Father’s Day! I hope you all enjoy reading. This one is truly from the heart…


Dearest Son,

I am writing this letter with the purest joy in my heart as we anticipate your arrival into the world. Your mother and I can’t wait. We love you and will continue to do so indefinitely…

I’ve decided to write this letter in an attempt to work out exactly what kind of role model I want to be for you going forward. Of course much of I what I’m saying won’t make any sense for a long time. And in truth I’ve written this for my own benefit as much as yours, so that I may better become the father I want to be for you. The father I need to be. That said I hope that one day you’ll find some strength in these words – that by defining some clear values to follow they can serve as a moral compass for when life becomes more difficult. If nothing else when you do come to read this perhaps you’ll understand that your mother and I have only ever wanted the very best for you.

I should say much of what I’ve written is a critical analysis of my life. A reflection on the mistakes I’ve made in the hope that by highlighting some of them, you may avoid the same pitfalls. Of course struggle is a necessary part of life. We often have to make the mistakes in order to learn from them and my hope is not that you avoid the same ones. That is unrealistic. I only wish that you work things out a little quicker than I did and that you never allow your problems to consume you as I have. Hopefully these words will help.

Given the colossal number of mistakes your father has made, I have a great deal I want to share. For that reason I’m going to split this into a series of letters covering twelve values that I hold close to my heart. Twelve values that I wish to honour you by and help raise you with.

For this first letter I felt it appropriate to start with my feelings about honesty and why I believe it’s so important. Honesty, like all the values I plan to cover, is still very much a work in progress for me because the truth is, I still have a great deal to work through. For now, at least, I hope by opening up, it will help hold myself accountable to the very values I say I believe in. The values I wish to teach you. I have shirked responsibility for far too long during my privileged lifetime. It’s no longer good enough for me to simply say the right things. I have to act on them as well. I have to be the best father I can be. It’s my responsibility to you. To honour you through my values. That starts with being honest. Here I go.

(I might add that I’m not sure exactly how my words are going to be taken and to my family and friends who read these letters, I’m sorry if what I say offends you. I only mean to be honest but that means saying the things I haven’t. It means being honest with you as well. I’m only trying confront my own demons here but if they help you too then great. That’s all I mean to do. I’ve refrained from using names in my stories but I think a number of people will be able to work out who I’m talking about. A number of family members including my mum and dad I have referenced directly as such.)


BE HONEST WITH THOSE YOU CARE ABOUT

I believe that honesty forms the basis of any meaningful relationship. It’s what builds trust. Without trust relationships break down and lose their meaning. I’m sure you’ll have heard of a story called the boy who cried wolf. It’s a classic example about how a boy’s deceitfulness cost him the trust of the very people he depended on. What I want to stress to you is to the importance of being open and honest with those you care about. Especially to your family. We’re here to help but It’s difficult for us to do so if you’re not honest.

Allow me to tell you a little story about four adolescent boys.

Once upon a time four adolescent boys were caught smoking at boarding school late one evening before their bedtime. The teacher who found them confiscated their possessions including a small tin that one of the boys had used to store his tobacco for rolling cigarettes. Unfortunately for that particular boy, he also used this tin to store cannabis where he still had left a tiny amount.

The next day the four boys were called to the principal’s office where they were confronted about what the teacher had found. “I’m going to give you a chance to be honest with me”, the principal said calmly. “In this box belonging to you we found some cannabis. Now we can’t prove the rest of you have also been smoking but if you have, I want you to tell me now. If you have, I will respect your honesty and try my best to help you. I promise you your punishment will be far less severe if you’re honest with me. If you really haven’t been smoking drugs, you will be free to leave. I’ll give you a moment to have a think.”

After a while the principal turned to each boy and asked them one by one if they had ever smoked drugs. Of course the first boy who owned the tin had no choice but admit. He had been caught red handed. The second boy however was conflicted. He felt guilty for he had helped pay for the drugs in his friend’s tin. He also wanted help. Help he hadn’t known how to ask for but that was now being offered. The problem was he was sacred. He was scared of the repercussions. More than that though he was scared of what his parents would think. The thought that he would be a disappointment to them broke his heart. He looked up at the principal while struggling to fight back the tears and admitted the truth.

A little later on the second boy was left to sit in front of the the principal while he called his parents to inform them what had happened. Afterward the principal handed him the phone. The boy was petrified. He had expected his father to yell. To be angry and tell him what a disappoint he was. He trembled as he answered the phone. What followed however took the boy by surprise. His dad wasn’t angry or disappointed. He didn’t shout and tell him he was a disappointment. Instead his father simply expressed concern. Concern for the well being of his son who he loved so dearly. His message to the boy was one of love and understanding. He had even expressed pride about the boy’s courageous decision to be honest. What the boys father gave him was reassurance and love when he needed it most. It took everything in that moment for the boy not to break down in front of the principal. I remember it well. You see I was that boy.

My honesty in that moment got me out a hole I’m not sure I would have escaped. My father’s love in that moment was the hand that helped pull me out. A helping hand that couldn’t have existed without my being honest. It took the extremely difficult decision to be honest to get the help I so desperately needed. It was one of the most courageous decisions I ever made. I also believe it was one of the most important.

I often look back at that moment in my life and wonder how different it would have been had I lied. What the repercussions would have been. I’ve no doubt I would have been caught eventually and expelled.  In fact that’s exactly what happened to one of the other boys in the story who had denied taking drugs. He was later caught purchasing them in full view of another teacher outside the front of the school and then expelled. As for the rest of us we were suspended. The principal made sure there was no permanent record after we left. He rewarded our honesty by protecting out future. By giving us a second chance.

Of course my problems didn’t go away overnight. They’ve taken much longer to overcome. However I believe it was that moment that ultimately set me on the right course. It was that moment that taught me the importance of being honest with those you love as a means to help yourself, even if I didn’t see it right away. Of course that’s not to say I wouldn’t have figured this out eventually but I can assure you I wouldn’t be where I am now had I lied in that moment. The courage to be honest, especially when you need help, is one of the most important lessons I could ever teach you.


HONESTY HELPS YOURSELF AND THOSE YOU LOVE

One of biggest obstacles to being honest is that it often requires having difficult, uncomfortable conversations. Whether being honest with ourselves, our loved ones or someone we just met. It is for this reason we often shy away from it. Most of us politely agree with someone we disagree with, or deny our own problems or wrongdoings out of fear of the social ramifications. We’re often afraid of upsetting someone or confronting a difficult truth about ourselves and then having to deal with our own emotions. However you’ll help no one, least of all yourself, by being dishonest with those you love. We might not like to hear what you have to say, but your honesty is ultimately the kinder thing to do, whether you’re opening up about your own mistakes or wrongdoings, or whether you’re confronting someone about theirs.

When you’re honest with someone you let them know why you believe they were wrong (or you were). Whether you’re right or wrong, what follows is an honest conversation where both of you are forced to think about something differently. Right or wrong, you will learn something and, if nothing else, you will have gained further trust from the person you’re confiding. If, for example, you avoid being honest for fear of upsetting another person or worse, for fear of being wrong, one of two things will happen. Either you won’t learn what you need to, or the person you’re talking to won’t learn something he or she needs to. You, or they, will continue to think you, or they, are right, potentially reinforcing damaging beliefs whereby neither of you learn anything. I’ve seen this so many times during my life (in fact I’ve been guilty of this on countless occasions while I’m being honest…), where avoiding difficult conversations because ‘it’s easier’ has only led to the reinforcement of negative behaviour over the years. By avoiding that difficult conversation it becomes increasingly difficult to have that often necessary conversation the later you leave it. Believe me!

I was dishonest with my family about my own problems for years. I was afraid of what they would think, so instead of turning to them I shut down and turned inward (and if you’re reading this Mum and Dad, I’m truly sorry). I think in some stupid way I thought I was protecting them by not burdening them with my problems. Ultimately it hurt them more. I made things worse for myself too.

I hope as a family, we will always be able to say what needs to be said to one another so that together we can grow. I promise that we will aim to be as open and as honest with you as we possibly can be. We will always be here to help you no matter what. But the hard truth is we can only do so, so long as you remain honest and open with us. It is the pain of honest confrontation that generates trust and respect in those you love. It’s also what’s needed for those you love to help you. It’s what’s needed for you to help them.