Punishment and Forgiveness

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

I have a set of principles. One of the big ones is to ‘always forgive someone the first time they make a mistake’. In this post, I want to elaborate on this, as well as give some thoughts on punishment and forgiveness more generally.

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First of all, when I mean ‘mistake’, I’m defining it as normal, average, human mistakes that could happen to anyone. Premeditated murder is not an average mistake. Missing an important meeting or entering an item wrong in a database is.

With that scope in mind, I think the leading issue behind punishment and forgiveness is the conflict between humanity and efficiency. If someone flubs up an email to a CEO during the BizDev process, that can ruin an important sale. At the same time, there was someone behind that email who more than likely didn’t intend to sabotage the whole operation. You can sacrifice humanity for the sake of efficiency by disgracing the person and firing them, or you can sacrifice efficiency for the sake of humanity by giving that person some leeway.

This is where my rule comes into play. I think that the vast, vast majority of people have good intentions but sometimes make fuckups. Sometimes those fuckups can be really bad — but statistically, they can happen to anyone. And because of that, I think it’s fair to give them the benefit of the doubt.

However, some people are just bad performers. So if they’re habitually sending poorly worded emails to important people, then maybe it’s time for that person to go. 

Another thing is that I consider all these mutually exclusive events. So if someone flubs an email, then two years later misses a meeting, that’s not really counting as a second strike. 

Sure, knowing the person helps determine how forgiving you should be. But oftentimes the fuckup is very early on in their time knowing you — for example, when I was 45 minutes late to the very first meeting of my internship. People learn over time — which means people make the majority of their mistakes in the first row. That’s why I think it’s important to keep things mutually exclusive — someone might mess up constantly in their first week, and then be golden for the next five years. Sometimes, being human ends up helping efficiency in the long run.

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