Teachable Moments

Sometimes, a gaffe or disclosure that is unimportant in and of itself will nevertheless offer us a useful insight. There were two examples in this morning’s news.

The first was a glaring grammatical error in the morning Star editorial about–of all subjects–education.  The paragraph in which it occurred read “Bennett needs public buy-in to ensure that the new operators, whoever they are, have the best chance to succeed. And that buy-in is more likely to occur if parents, teachers and community leaders think that they’re concerns were taken into account before an outside operator was hired to run one or more of their local schools.”

“They’re” should obviously been “their.” Oops! Perhaps Gannett’s decision to cut copy and proofreading personnel was a bit too hasty?

The second was a brief report in the IBJ of an exchange between Greg Ballard and Amos Brown. During a discussion on his radio program, Amos asked the Mayor whether he had ever met with the head of the NAACP. Ballard replied that, while he had not had a face-to-face meeting with “him,” he had been at a breakfast meeting with “him.” The problem, of course, is that the head of the NAACP is a woman.

This could, of course, be shrugged off as a simple case of “mis-speaking.” But I think it is a particularly vivid example of Ballard’s most unfortunate flaw: an inability to admit–evidently even to himself–what he doesn’t know, or hasn’t done, and a corresponding need to try bluffing his way through.

When Ballard was campaigning, it was painfully obvious he knew very little about urban policy and governance. Having spent much of the preceding 25 years in the Marines, he also didn’t know a lot about what had been happening in Indianapolis. Those gaps wouldn’t necessarily make him a bad mayor; lots of people go into positions unprepared, recognize their deficits, and work to correct them. Understanding what you don’t understand is the beginning of wisdom. Those who ultimately succeed despite lacking the requisite knowledge or skills are those who are willing to say “I don’t know” when they don’t.

Those who fail, try to bluff their way through.