The “Sin” of Omission

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There was a Scottish preacher named  George B. Duncan from whom I had heard a sermon recorded back in the 1970’s somewhere. It was one of those things that you read, you hear or you see at various points in your life that simply sticks with you forever. There is a  line in this particular sermon that could have been from any religion or humanist philosophy in the world and I believe it would still ring true, in some way, for most of them.  The line is this.

The sins of commission are not the worst sins in the world. It is the sins of omission. What you could have done, had the capability, resources, capacity and time to do but you  just didn’t do it. These are by far the most heinous sins.

If you’re not a fan of old Scottish preachers, I can restate it like this:

Making a mistake or doing something bad is not the worst thing you can do. It’s doing nothing at all when you have the opportunity and capability to help. That’s the worst.

If you believe the statement above, it changes the way you look at the world and your profession. I think about this line when I watch the news about the floods in Pakistan, Cholera in Haiti (yes you should send a cheque too!) and  when I  see a project that is not mine starting to shake off the rails and tip over.  Would I be correct in saying that most consultants these days, if it wasn’t their project would just watch it crash? Would I also be correct in saying that some consultants these days, if it was their project they would still just watch it crash? I  wonder.

Some years ago I was contracted to audit a project and as a first step I reviewed an architectural design document that was, for the most part, utter fiction and bad fiction at that. The signatories to the approval of the document were all pretty much around so I asked each one if they thought the design proposed in this document was valid and if it would work. Some said yes but the best people, the ones with real world experience uniformly said: “No, no chance”. Yet they had all let the design go by unchallenged. They omitted to speak, the “sin” of omission. We fixed the project but it was some months later and millions of additional dollars were spent to modify the architecture and reengineer components where the original design had been fatally flawed.

  • “It’s SEP” (Somebody Else’s Problem)
  • “I don’t want to rock the boat”
  • “It will sort itself out eventually anyway”
  • “It’s not in my mandate”

I heard all of these comments from the highly competent resources.

Imagine for the moment that you are a plumber. A home owner has called you in to fix a leaky kitchen faucet. You go down to the basement to turn the water off and you notice that the main line to the bathroom is heavily corroded and dripping water. Every professional plumber on the planet will tell the homeowner about the other problem and recommend they fix it. They will not wait for the pipe to burst and the flood damage to occur.  Perhaps we need to raise the professional standard for the IT consultant to at least the level of Joe the Plumber and consistently tell people about leaky pipes when we see them.

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One Response to The “Sin” of Omission

  1. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

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