Brian Edwards Media

With the benefit of hindsight Charles Saatchi would probably not have choked his wife Nigella Lawson in a public place.

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Here’s a tip: The next time you hear someone use  the words ‘in hindsight’ or ‘with the benefit of hindsight’, assume they are about to try to excuse or at least mitigate some unacceptable or reprehensible previous behaviour.

I’ve come to this conclusion because of  the increasing frequency with which wrongdoers, particularly those in the public eye, tell us that ‘in hindsight’ or ‘with the benefit of hindsight’ they would have done things differently.

‘In hindsight’, for example, the owners and management of Pike River Coal would have had safety protocols and practices in place which would have avoided the deaths of 29 men. The ‘hindsight’ in this particular case resides in the subsequent deaths of those 29 men. ‘Now that 29 men have died, we can see that we were wrong not to implement those protocols and practices. We’re only human after all. We don’t have second sight.’

The truth is that greed for profit and a lack of care about the safety of their employees was the real reason for the unnecessary deaths of those 29 men, not an inability to reasonably predict the outcome of inadequate safety protocols and practices. The mine managers had that ability but found it convenient not to exercise it. They did not require ‘the benefit of hindsight’ to alert them to those dangers. They had that knowledge at the time.

This is almost invariably the case when people use ‘hindsight’ or the lack of it to justify or excuse their previous behaviour. It is the commonest rationale for having failed to take reasonable care, failed to consider the likely consequences of their actions, failed to invest the time and energy necessary to minimise risk and harm  to others. It applies with equal force to the directors of finance companies now facing the judgement of the courts as it does to the owners and management of Pike River Coal.

You cannot have hindsight on your current behaviour. That is a contradiction in terms. The hindsight excusers nonetheless invite us to forgive or at least understand their  previous actions on the grounds that they lacked an ability which none of us have – the ability to predict the future. ‘I’m not Superman. Don’t judge me.’

No one expects those whose decision-making impacts on others to be ‘Supermen’, nor to have second sight. But we are entitled to expect them to have the capacity to anticipate the consequences for themselves and others of a particular course of action.

So the next time you hear someone say, ‘In hindsight…’ or  ‘With the benefit of hindsight…’  in order to explain, excuse or minimise the impact of some  previous course of action, I suggest you ask yourself whether  their explanation rings true. My guess is you won’t have to wait long. You’ll have plenty of opportunities.

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22 Comments:

  1. I’ve heard a fair few people say “With the benefit of hindsight, I realise I was wrong to vote National!”

    An (almost) allowable use of the term … Allowable but not excusable!

  2. The Herald report on their upcoming divorce quoted Saatchi as complaining that his wife did not speak up and defend him after their tactile tiff.

    • Yes, I found that extraordinary. However, it has allowed him to place the blame on Nigella and to claim that HE now is divorcing HER. Not a nice man.

  3. 3

    The consequence of the Pike River disaster was that the whole investment was lost and no profit resulted. Therefore the cause was not the pursuit of profit but inability to foresee and manage the risk.

    So was the level of risk known and deliberately gambled with or was it misjudged. I’m unclear we know the answer yet.

    • I think it’s naive to suggest there is no connection between the pursuit of profit and minimising risk to one’s employees. The implementation of the protocols and practices I refer to costs money. When buildings collapse and employees are killed in ‘third world’ countries around the world the blame almost invariably lies with developers and owners who wanted to save money by cutting corners on building standards and safety in construction.

      • 3.1.1

        The pursuit of profit is a most complex activity that inevitably involves satisfying a host of competing interests as well as successfully forecasting the future.

        It is as naive to blame the pursuit of profit for everything that goes wrong as it would be to ignore its involvement in everything that goes right.

        Yes, safety costs money. Disasters cost much more. No-one knowingly and willingly courts a disaster to save a little on safety – unless in third world countries they think corruption makes them immune to consequences.

        • Humans are really bad at assessing risk. Noone may willingly want a disaster but people court disaster by not actually finding out about the risks involved or finding out about them and not believing them because it doesn’t match their (often very limited) experience.

          Here is an interesting talk about risk …
          “A monkey economy as irrational as ours”
          http://www.ted.com/talks/laurie_santos.html

  4. Key would say in ten years that ‘in hindsight’ it was asschully stupid to enforce legislation to spy on NZ citizens, BUT! at the time he strong armed the member for Belmont he was purrfacklee ‘comfortable’. And it was all Obama’s idea anyway.

    I agree with JK on the allowable (almost) but not excusable use of the term.

    • In ten years time he would definitely had forgotten he has pursued this legislation if his current brain fades are any guide!

  5. Those pictures of Charles’s hand clasped around Nigella’s throat, have imposed an intolerable strain on their marriage. The poor lady had complained that she was experiencing difficulty swallowing her spinach quiche, and her Charles was checking for early signs of goitre. In hindsight, he wished he hadn’t.

  6. 6

    With the benefit of hindsight, the Labour party would not have put forward proposals to elect women candidates via quota and “man bans”.

    They could instead have decided to put up great women candidates and support them with training from the likes of our respected hosts.

  7. You make a great point Brian and one people would do well to heed. For my money hindsight is well named because it is an attempt to look back, and try to cover one’s arse.

  8. Strangling Nigella is the least of it. This is the man who inflicted Damien Hirst on us.

    • Strangling someone can surely not be ‘the least’ of anything.

      • BE: “Strangling someone can surely not be ‘the least’ of anything.”

        Puh-leeeze. Enough of the drama queen hyperbole, already: A one-handed cusping just under the chin, doesn’t come anywhere near “strangling”. The action is little more than tactile animated gesturing in a domestic riff. Nigella’s windpipe wouldn’t have even noticed the intrusion. The guy who snapped the pics needs to be roundly condemned; it was none of his business recording a domestic altercation. That is where the real sin, lies. Besides, we’ve all done something like that during the course of our relationships. I know, I have.

        I can’t see what’s wrong with, “In hindsight”. It’s neither an attempt at exculpation nor even an admission of regret; it’s just an oblique way of saying: Given a repeat of the same circumstances, my approach MAY have been different. It is circumspection by way of “After re-visiting the situation, I am now the wiser for it”. It should be seen as maturity by way of self-awareness; learning through experience.

        Re Pike River’s ownership and management:

        BE: “The truth is that greed for profit and a lack of care about the safety of their employees was the real reason for the unnecessary deaths of those 29 men, not an inability to reasonably predict the outcome of inadequate safety protocols and practices.”

        Seems like a rush to judgement, to sheet the blame home to them. There was the Department of Labour, who have to take the majority of the blame for this. I see them as being far more culpable than the owners and management. It is they who established and were responsible for implementing the safety protocols as well as the oversight in the running of the mine.

        In all things, we have to learn to be fair.

        • 8.1.1.1

          ‘We’ all have, have ‘we’? Please refrain from including me in your generalisation about domestic violence, that’s NEVER been acceptable where I live, nor where I was brought up.

        • The above quote always comes up, especially when a criminal act is perpetrated and the offender is found out. Just watch and listen to offenders in the courts offering their excuses…the drugs scenario, they made me do it, I had a bad childhood etc. Many people in such a position, are still trying to deny their wrongful act and will not take personal responsibility. It is obvious that Charles Saatchi has lost his moral compass. Many well heeled, powerful people have a tendency to lose sight of perspective.

  9. I don’t agree with your central premise at all. My impression is that there is an unfortunate trend in our society to seek scapegoats and demand sackings, resignations and penalties after every real and imagined offence, problem, failure, error, setback, unanticipated outcome.

    No longer is it accepted that sometimes, despite the best intentions and the most meticulous plans of mice and men, merde happens. Consequently the phrase “with the benefit of hindsight” comes up a lot when, for example, some unfortunate technocrat is being grilled mercilessly by the remorseless Mary Wilson (who no doubt never makes a mistake in her life). The tormented victim is just trying to defend themselves, using a phrase that’s perfectly fit for purpose.

  10. It’s the nature of life and human experience that we are damned, or lifted, by our actions. As they say, actions speak louder than words, and the actions we take express where we are at that moment. In other words, they are an imprint of our soul, like a footprint in the sand on a beach. There are footprints before and footprints after making a continum. We can learn from our mistakes but that doesn’t erase the fact that we made the mistake in the first place. Those who think they shouldn’t have to bear responsibility for their actions are displaying a conceit about life and their position in it. We don’t play/direct the game of life. We are pieces in life’s unfolding which is bigger than us.
    (PS Its this ability to see the “in hindsight” continum that sees some people try to use it as an excuse to absolve themselves of their sins)

    or sumfing like that!

  11. I’ve come to this conclusion because of the increasing frequency with which wrongdoers, particularly those in the public eye, tell us that ‘in hindsight’ or ‘with the benefit of hindsight’ they would have done things differently.