Oct 022008

Humans make mistakes. The best and the brightest could all tell us stories of shocking blunders and missteps.

So why is it so hard in today’s society for people to admit mistakes and move on?

Today a 21-year veteran New York City police officer was found dead, an apparent suicide. His name was Michael W. Pigott, and he was responsible for making the call to taser a distressed man on a ledge wielding a fluorescent tube and threatening to jump. That man fell to his death.

NYTimes: Police Lt in Deadly Taser Case Commits Suicide

Now I want to make it clear that I have no information other than what is in the article regarding officer Pigott and I do not know anything else about him. I do not claim to know what was in his head or what caused him to come to the decision to take his own life. But his suicide, possibly in relation to this recent event, got me thinking about how we as a society seem to have made a dramatic shift towards cover-up and denial in the face of our mistakes. And how sad it is if in some cases the consequences of accepting blame have been made too much to bear, to the point that one considers ending their own life rather than face themselves and the rest of us by admitting they have erred.

As usual, I blame George W. Bush (he makes it so easy). His dogged determination to never admit fault, never ‘change horses mid-stream’ (until it is way too late), to ‘stay the course’ (oh wait, that was his Dad), coupled with an astoundingly consistent record of incorrect snap judgments, has infected this nation. Coupled with the sharp trend toward severe criminal penalties for even non-threatening offenses and constant over-reacting to the slightest perception of a threat, we are all in danger of falling in to a pattern of covering up when we should be able and willing to fess up.

The officer in charge on that scene was balancing several conflicting goals. The safety of the public, the safety of the other officers, and the safety of the distressed man on the ledge. He made a call that he no doubt hoped would lead to disabling but not killing the man, and that is not how things worked out. Hopefully the New York police department will learn from this and move on.

I feel sad for all of us in a society where our level of denial of reality is in direct proportion to the severity of our mistakes, where personal responsibility takes a back seat to saving face even in cases of trivial misdeeds. When lying and covering up are the automatic reaction, society is weakened. When constant concealment leads to intense anxiety and internalized conflict, we all suffer. As did Officer Pigott.

God rest his soul.