Coffee With

Dr. Judy

Unforeseen Consequences

by Judy Richardson | Published November 11, 2021

Unforeseen Consequences

Several years ago, I wrote a course called Case Studies in Moral Leadership. The course 

analyzed the decisions of leaders and focused on the unexpected consequences of their decisions. One study was of Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb the end the war with Japan. A visit to Truman’s library revealed a letter from Albert Einstein urging him not to drop the bomb. While they had some idea of the consequences of the devastation if would cause, the horrors the Japanese would suffer as the result of radio -active contamination would stretch far into the future.  The bomb saved many American lives at the cost of millions of lives of then present and future generations of Japanese.  The decision was the means justified the end. American lives were saved, and the war was on Harry’s desk declared, The buck stops here! No doubt this was a tough decision for Mr. Truman to make.

Our lives are composed of thousands maybe even a million choices that impact our lives and the lives of others as yet unborn just as the decisions of our ancestors have impacted us and the lives of our children and grandchildren. The leadership of our country make decisions that have world- wide consequences. We sometimes struggle to understand how they seem to ignore the consequences. Other times we are critical of those leaders who fail to consider the moral issues involved.

Yet not all unforeseen consequences bring disaster. An act of kindness can have a ripple effect that changes lives far into the future.  A special emphasis on “moral leadership” rests with the teacher. The effects their decisions have on the lives of our children can be long range and very positive or very negative.  I can recall several incidents in the lives of my children that had positive and negative results.  Sitting in the teacher’s breakroom and listening to other teachers say negative things about a difficult student convinced me to have my coffee elsewhere, and make my own decisions about the students in my charge.

One incident in my teaching career that I have never forgotten is of a girl who came to my classroom one day after school and told me her parents had bought her birth control pills because they assumed she was promiscuous.  She was devastated to think that they did not trust her.  We talked for a long time, and I hoped that I had reassured her that she was a good girl, and her parents might have thought they were protecting her.  She was a straight A student, and never could forgive her parents. I was family for her when she graduated from high school.  Several years later, I received a letter from her telling me of her graduation from college and her plans to become an astronaut. She also told me that she had been contemplating suicide when she came to see me after school and credited me with saving her life. 

I am sharing this because I had no idea when I comforted and listened to her she was so desperate talk to someone she trusted. Being an adult she trusted was important. We all have had teachers that we felt really cared.  Of course, today, there may be many other ways troubled student can seek help.  Yet I believe that harsh words spoken can never been erased, and kind ones will be remembered. My son had a teacher who told him he was a rotten kid and would never amount to anything. I had a little conference with her and her principal reminding her that is his behavior that was bad, that did not make him a bad person.

My daughter, who is very bright, was accused of cheating on a basic skills test because she had such a high score.  They made her take the test again, under surveillance. The second time she took it, she instead of 98 she got 99. Many adults can think back to times when teachers were quick to condemn what they did not understand. To paraphrase a comment in a recent movie, “How can you fail me because I am smarter than you are.”  As a gifted child, my daughter faced these kinds of teachers.

Parents too, can be quick to find fault, and not so quick to praise. I remember when I was punished for telling a lie and I had not lied.  Later my father, probably the most honest man I have ever known, apologized for jumping to that conclusion. I know that he was sorry, but I can still remember how it felt when my dad thought I had lied to him. That happened nearly 70 years ago.

As parents, we all make mistakes, but we can do our best to apologize if we were wrong.

Every day of our lives we make decisions that impact those around us. The consequences can be positive or negative and unforeseen.  Looking back on the almost 79 years of my life, this is a well learned lesson. Still sometimes, and impulsive decision can bring about unexpected results. Taking some time to think before we act is a good start to being a moral leader.