Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Canadian Consular Officials in Kenya Low on Aristotle's Practical Wisdom

Now my retired mother is becoming extremely wary of travelling. She travelled all over the world with my father on business. But airplane crashes, VIA rail strikes and breakdowns, an ever-thickening U.S. border and no guarantee of protection from adversity by Canadian consular officials have dimmed her enthusiasm.

The apparent lack of good judgment by the Canadian consular officials in Kenya with respect to Suaad Hagi Mohamud’s plight sends shivers up our collective ordinary citizen spines (that’s most of us). The confidence that we will be protected from unfounded accusations as to our identity when travelling abroad has been dealt yet another huge blow, as many cases have preceded Hagi Mohamud’s.

Given what we know of the case, the most mysterious is the way in which decisions were made. They seem almost laughable in that the starting point was the Kenyan customs officials determining that Hagi Mohamud’s lips did not match those on her passport. After that the process went from bad to worse.

What was going on? Were Canadian consular officials spooked by some current terrorist threat and inadvertently transposed that to Hagi even when she produced every imaginable form of seemingly valid identification? Or, were they so rule bound that they lacked the ability to make a good decision? Is it possible that in the absence of this learned skill, they were tricked by their brains into making “bad” decisions and as a consequence created a truly farcical situation right up the line to the Prime Minister?

Aristotle would argue that in the face of what we know, all involved who had the authority to shape a good decision lacked “practical wisdom”—a master virtue that guides the application of the right amount and mix of their leadership virtues to a context specific situation. He called this a person’s “executive decision maker” necessary for stopping our range of virtues from “running amuck” and enabling us “to do the right thing in the right way at the right time”.

Practical wisdom evolves from experience and works best in an environment in which people are expected to use their good sense not just the rules. To be wise in the face of non-routine situations requires practice. A rigid bureaucracy does not allow wisdom to improve. Quite the contrary, it gets worse. This may be the real root cause of the problem.

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