Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Crippling Effect of Second Chances

There's nothing as exciting as a comeback - seeing someone with dreams, watching them fail, and then getting a second chance. - Rachel Griffiths

People do make mistakes and I think they should be punished. But they should be forgiven and given the opportunity for a second chance. We are human beings. - David Millar

As I watch the debate swirl over Urban Outfitter’s decision to sell Kent State shirts covered in simulated blood spatter, I wonder how many people and organizations deliberately rely on “the second chance” as part of an intentional fall-back strategy when an effort to push our boundaries fails or if our first effort at anything is in fact always a “disposable rough draft”.

For those too young to remember, the Kent State shooting on May 4, 1970, involved the shooting of students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard.  Amongst the students who were protesting the Cambodian Campaign of the Vietnam War and some innocent bystanders, 4 students were killed and 9 were injured.

Why someone would market a shirt light-heartedly promoting this escapes me but it also causes me to wonder something.

We seem to live in a world where many people of influence and who are considered to be reasonably intelligent seem to say or do the darndest things while relying on the fact that they will always have a second chance to undo what they did regardless of the damage they may have created.

Consider Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who, while addressing the Asian Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas last month, made a racial joke targeting Asians.

How about the Comp Sci professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador who gave the students an assignment where they were to create an application that could determine whether a rape victim would commit suicide?

Then there was the HBO special a couple of years ago where the producers of the show thought it would be cool to show a young girl drinking out of a phallic-shaped water bottle.  Try selling those to underage kids from your home and see how many you sell before the police show up.


In these and other situations, it appears that the general rule of thumb is to be over the top or insensitive now and apologize later if the furor gets significant enough.

By that time, however, the objective has often been achieved, whether it be attention, notoriety, publicity or whatever the desired effect is.  Meanwhile, our boundaries of what we consider acceptable have stretched a little further and possibly to our detriment.

When the subsequent, obligatory apology shows up where people throw up their hands and say “I don’t know what I was thinking” or “I didn’t think it was that bad”, I always think of this:

If it wasn’t in your head in the first place, then you wouldn’t have to worry about it coming out as it did and then subsequently having to apologize for it.

Well … that is unless the act is intentional and the apology is part of the “game”.

Even in my own line of work, I observe people and organizations being sloppy, lazy or unprofessional around the implementation of strategy, application architecture, application security, business continuity and the like and then throwing up their hands in despair when the predictable, inevitable disaster occurs.  Events such as the compromise of credit and debit cards throughout the retail industry in the last year is an excellent example of this – preventable acts that weren’t prevented.

The difficulty with relying on second chances is that they are unpredictable at best in their offering and timing and if we come to rely on them, we discover that what we consider to be our second chance is actually our third, fourth, etc.

And sometimes, the hope that a second chance will save us fades as we discover that the problem that we allowed to manifest can’t actually be undone with a second chance because of the nature of the damage incurred or in the time available to fix the issue.

The Bottom Line

We should always be grateful for the opportunity of a second chance to improve an initial result when our best effort wasn’t enough.

We must also be open to providing others with a second chance when warranted.

However, while we should be grateful for the opportunity to receive (and give) a second chance, I wonder if we should work at living as if we will never need or receive one.

Otherwise, the day may come when your project, your company, a relationship or perhaps something on a state, national or international level may suffer as a result, producing a disastrous result that cannot be easily recovered from.

I think we can and must do better to avoid the belief that the safety net of a second chance is always available on-demand whenever we need it.

Because maybe a life depends on it.

Maybe it’s yours.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


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