Better To Ask Forgiveness…..

A recent conversation brought this to mind. The saying of, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission”, is another of the things people frequently use incorrectly. Generally, they say this somewhat cavalierly because they leap to the conclusion forgiveness will automatically be given. In the real world, that is most assuredly not the case.

The first time I heard this expression was as a young second lieutenant in the Army. The desire to cut through bureaucratic layers/red tape is the usual reason this approach is taken. A few years after when I was a senior first lieutenant/soon to be captain, a boss elaborated on the concept. He was not an easy guy to work for, but this was one of those pieces of advice I took to heart and have passed on to subordinates. He said that if I choose to disregard a regulation or a policy – of which there are many – to remember this: a) There are legal aspects that underlay many regulations. Learn the difference and never break a law; b) Take time to learn the regulation/policy or listen to someone who does know it – there are usually “experts” in these things; c) Have a  logical reason for disregard and have a persuasive argument if called to task; d) Understand there may be adverse consequences to the choice and accept responsibility if it turns out that way

In my career, I never knowingly broke a law although I admit there may have have been some early on I wasn’t aware of. There were times I did the deliberate disregard after being advised to follow the regulation/policy and it worked out just fine – maybe a butt-chewing, but forgiveness. There were  a few notable times of adverse consequences and I have the figurative scars as a reminder. The advice works just as well in the civilian world as in the military.


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