The Gift of Uncertainty

Being able to say, “I don’t know…” is very liberating. It leads to asking more and deeper questions, and the mind to alternatives we wouldn’t otherwise consider. Embracing uncertainty slows us down and, if we’re wise, encourages reflection and...


I am not defending the officer who shot and killed Mr Ferrell, nor do I draw any conclusions as to his guilt. I was not there and have neither more nor less knowledge of what happened than do anyone else here. I DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED, OR WHY. 
See how easy that was for me? I admitted ignorance of what happened on scene, the mindsets of any of the involved parties, why the officer fired his weapon, or whether he was negligent or criminal in doing so. 

I do know, because of what I do for a living and a pretty extensive knowledge of human behavior, there are huge gaps in this story that need to be filled in before I'd ever presume to draw the firm conclusions some of you have. I'd suggest you all withhold judgment, too, but I know that's not nearly as much fun as blind outrage and confirming your own biases. 

What I do know is a terribly tragic event is once again revealing the ugliness of some of you.

One poster responded directly to me, insinuating Kerrick’s decision to shoot was a product of racial profiling and “white privilege” based only on what he knew, which was exactly the same as me.  I answered:

I don't deny incidents of racial profiling occur, or there exists certain "white privilege" in this country, but not every negative encounter between people of color and law enforcement has either as its genesis. In fact, the overwhelming majority do not, although it's the easy answer for those who want to presume to know the hearts and minds of others to verify their own biases and preconceptions.

Was firing on Mr. Ferrell racially motivated? I don't know and neither do you. Did the woman who called 911 fear him because he was black? I don't know and neither do you. Would the outcome have been any different if he were white? I don't know and neither do you. You have no more idea of what went on that night than do I, nor any greater insight into the minds of the caller, the dispatcher, or the officers who responded. And keep in mind I am a police officer and I don't presume to know what they saw, perceived, or thought. I stand by my statement, however, that there had to have been much more to the matter than is indicated by media reports.

The "ugliness" I reference is caused by unwillingness to suspend judgment until all facts are accounted for. It is caused by the very human trait to cling tightly to those notions and conclusions we first make or that support whatever worldview we've adopted, despite any potential evidence to the contrary, no matter what. It comes from closed off thinking that denies there might just be alternative explanations that might upend that very worldview, and from the stubborn insistence that thinking could not possibly be wrong. 

If you want to dialogue on this, you know how to message me. But come to it with an open mind.

Of course, he never contacted me.  I didn’t expect him to.

_ _ _ _ _

Admitting ignorance doesn’t come easy for most of us; we tend to draw the conclusions we do based on a deeply held set of convictions and beliefs about the way people think and act formed in the crucible of our own experience and filtered through a lens of our own design.  Self-assurance is a strong deterrent against alternate theories, competing points-of-view, or even hard facts.  You have all seen and been frustrated by this tendency in others.  Unfortunately, while we in law enforcement know exactly what this obstinate cocksureness looks like we often let the same character flaw infect our judgments.  

Sometimes I wonder if it’s not harder for those of us who wear a badge to set our egos aside and admit that maybe – just maybe – we might be wrong about something.  Even within your own department, how often do you disagree with other cops about policy and procedure, or armchair quarterback the calls of your colleagues?  How often has one of your calls been dissected by others with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight?  Often the armchair quarterbacks and second-guessers merely have perfectly legitimate if completely different ways of doing things – it is, after all, possible you are both right even when you disagree.  But sometimes one of you is simply wrong, or at least less right.  And sometimes we just screw up.

We’re encouraged to be bold, decisive, and to act “with the strength of (our) convictions.”  To hesitate or show indecisiveness is thought weak, and once a course is decided on changing direction is often discouraged.  Admitting ignorance or that e might be wrong is not in the vocabulary of too many of us.  But if you adopt these attitudes are you really doing yourself and those you serve a disservice?

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