Discernment and Judgement

Madeleine Albright has a new book out, Fascism: A Warning  I learned of it when she made an appearance on one of the news/talk shows I watch regularly.  She was articulate and I decided to read the book.  The library had a waiting list and no audio version, so I decided to start with Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948.  I hated to stop listening and got to bed after midnight.  Interestingly, she had no idea until late in her life that her family was Jewish.  Her parents became Catholics shortly after she was born and she became Episcopalian.

As Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was controversial.  I believe Golda Meir was a comparable figure.  When you have power, even an ethical person is forced to compromise and make choices that disadvantage some people.  They can only make the best choices possible under specific circumstances.  If some of those fail or lead to worse outcomes, does that negate all good intentions and other positive outcomes?  My answer is, “No.”  Do you stop supporting the work a person does because something they did ended badly?  I don’t believe so.  Is the person evil because they made a bad choice or chose the lesser evil?  Probably not, but it is a question of degree.

I’ve thought about this in relation to the #MeToo Movement.  Should someone be punished 30 years later if they’ve rectified their behavior and are willing to admit they made mistakes?  I believe that’s a question of degree.  Bill Cosby – YES!  Al Franken – No … and I’m sorry that he resigned.  Discernment and judgement are not the same thing, but they intersect.  Discernment entails understanding and is a process. Judgement should be a result of this process, but is often based on emotional context and trigger issues.  Abandonment and negation are less than helpful.  The refusal to participate in a flawed process is irresponsible unless that refusal has results beyond silent personal protest.  Refusing to support a person or system because his or her actions are sometimes nuanced, biased or flawed, disregards our common humanity and our common flaws.  In addition, we are all products of our socialization, culture and environment.  Breaking free of that takes time and effort … and bravery.  Trying counts, failing counts, trying again and again counts … much more than the occasional failure between intent and result.