The Real Aleppo Gaffe

This isn’t about politics. This is about cognition and the societal biases that interfere with asking questions, and learning from mistakes. Yes, Gary Johnson made an error of thought. However, asking for clarification should not be frowned upon. The gaffe was not made by Johnson but by everyone who judged him for doing what we should all strive to do: seek better understanding.

Gary Johnson made a mistake in thinking. This is a mistake each and every human being has made. He heard a word and his mind interpreted it in a way that was incorrect. Instead of thinking Aleppo was a city in Syria, he assumed that it was an acronym. Instead of searching his memory for a city in Syria, he searched his memory for an acronym and came up with nothing.

Perhaps he has been hanging out with Bill Weld, who likes to talk about the WTO, NAFTA, and acronyms like that, a little too much. Perhaps if Gary Johnson hung out with Jason Ditz, he’d immediately think that Aleppo was a city in Syria and much more devastating images would come to mind.

Gary Johnson’s response was what anyone who is in that situation should do, ask for clarification and more information. If something is not clear, you should ask. We should not judge anyone for doing so. Maybe Hillary could have avoided issues if she asked someone what the [C] meant in the subject line of the emails.

We should never judge someone for asking questions when they do not know. We should encourage people to ask questions and seek better understanding and clarity. The Aleppo gaffe wasn’t made by Gary Johnson, it was made by the interview team and everyone who immediately jumped to judge Gary Johnson for his mistake. We need to stop shaming people for not knowing every piece of information and asking questions. We learn more from mistakes and asking questions than from memorization of city names.

Judging people for asking for clarification helps no one. It reduces the likelihood that someone will ask for help when they need it. That can be disastrous on many levels.

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