Do you have good judgment? How do you teach it?
(In an age when anything you do can be videotaped, shared or tweeted, bad judgement calls can be magnified and amplified like never before)
My uncle Sivaramakrishnan called from Mumbai this morning stating that he wanted to ‘capture Twitter.’
Sivaramakrishnan-mama is called SRK by neighbours in his largely Gujarati housing complex, a fact that he accepts with mixed feelings. “I can’t expect a Shah or a Patel with their one syllable names to wrap their tongue around Sivaramakrishnan,” he says philosophically. “I don’t even tell them that my full name is Sivaramakrishna Sundaram. They will stop sending theplas and your aunt is addicted to them.”
The other problem is that every time someone introduces him as “our dear SRK,” people expect Shah Rukh Khan, not a short, plump, balding bespectacled Sivaramakrishnan.
SRK-Mama is an active Rotarian. He has become interested in Twitter because he feels that it will increase his profile. He harbours political ambitions and needs a platform. The fact that he has to ask me for help shows how desperate he is. I have some 500 followers and have no clue as to how to grow them.
“Can’t I buy Twitter followers like how politicians buy votes?” asked SRK-Mama.
“Twitter is like catching a tiger by the tail,” I replied sagely. “Look at how they are shaming that dentist who shot Cecil the Lion on social media. He will go bankrupt.”
“There is no question of me shooting a lion. After all, I am vegetarian. If anything, I will let the lion eat me,” SRK-Mama said piously.
I chewed a “Bite Me” cupcake morosely. SRK-Mama had caught me on a bad day. I don’t know if you read Anita Raghavan’s excellent piece about Rajat Gupta serving jail time. I did and it raised lots of questions about judgment and destiny. Gupta, everyone will tell you—and many have—is a brilliant leader, thoughtful family man, and a large-hearted philanthropist. He attributes his fall from grace to “destiny” in the article. Mostly, it was bad judgment. He made a series of small choices about friendships and notions of wealth that led to one catastrophic mistake. But here is the nub and this is what got me to chew the cupcake morosely: such a scenario could happen to you or I.
“Do you have good judgment, SRK Mama?” I asked.
He paused chewing his murukku and breathed nasally over the phone line. “You see, ma, people of my generation are not trained to have good judgment. How can you learn good judgment if the biggest decision of your life—your life partner—is chosen for you in an arranged marriage? I didn’t even seen your aunt before I married her. Where is the question of good judgment?”
The dictionary says that judgment is the ability to make “considered decisions.” It also says that judgment is a “misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment.” The former leads to the latter, I guess.
Judgment can also seem like a crapshoot. Most people who make catastrophic mistakes rarely realize that they are doing so while in action: witness fashion designer John Galliano who was caught on video spewing anti-Semitic hate while under the influence of drugs and alcohol; witness Justine Sacco, the South African PR professional who blithely tweeted about Africans and AIDS and lost her job. Or Rajat Gupta who thought he was taking a call in the middle of a board meeting, little realizing that it would take him to jail. In this age when anything you do can be videotaped, shared, or tweeted, bad judgment calls can be magnified and amplified like never before. Worst of all, you are not allowed to lick your wounds in private. And here was SRK-Mama, wanting to dive right in.
“Do you know people who have thousands of Twitter followers, and if so, how did they achieve it?” he asked, sounding like an engineering entrance exam.
I actually know several people who have over 35,000 Twitter followers. Many of them are obsessing about how to double these followers, while simultaneously outraged that people who aren’t as good as them have more followers. Meanwhile, their spouses complain that they are “addicted” to Twitter.
The literature on how to develop good judgment is scarce and nebulous mostly because there is no fool-proof method of cultivating good judgment. It isn’t as clean cut as tidying up a room using Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s rule of keeping only those objects that give you joy. Judgment is messy; has little to do with intelligence; happens all the time, not as a rehearsal but as a live-stream; and can frequently go wrong at innocuous moments. Then how do you cover yourself? How do you reduce the odds of bad judgment? Here is my list that is in progress.
1. Eliminate distractions. Don’t multitask. Bad judgments happen when you aren’t paying attention; when you are preoccupied with something else.
2. Cultivate people you don’t like because they think differently from you. This will force you to question your assumptions; and assumption, to quote the immortal lines of John Maclane in the movie, Die Hard, is the “mother of all f*^$ ups.”
3. Try your best to tame your ego. A lot of bad judgment calls happen when you are feeling like the master of the universe; when your ego is so puffed up with pride that you cannot see the hurricane that is coming straight at you— to hit you in the face.
In view of all this, I tried to give SRK-Mama some advice.
“Don’t get on social media,” I said. “You are a contented man. Twitter will spoil your peace of mind. You will start comparing yourself unnecessarily with people who have no relevance to your life. And feel like a loser in the bargain.”
“How does Chandraayan the Lion sound?” he asked. “I am a Leo. A lion. Instead of Cecil the Lion as my Twitter name, why not give it an Indian twist?”
I sighed. There was no point protecting an octogenarian from the savage mores of the online universe. It was a jungle out there and Chandraayan the Lion would have to learn to fend for himself.
Oh, and if you happen to stumble upon the aforementioned Chandraayan the Lion, follow him, will you? Just don’t shoot him down.
Shoba Narayan is looking forward to reading the book that Rajat Gupta is purportedly writing in prison. She hopes that it will talk about judgement calls. Instagram @shobanarayan. Twitter @shobanarayan