If You Can’t Admit Failure….


This is the lesson that Steve McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, needs to learn.   He made the statement that although the DPS “made some mistakes” the agency as a whole “did not fail” the parents of children killed at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde.   “Did not fail” the community.

He’s wrong.   Every single law enforcement officer, and every agency from which that officer came, failed the children, the teachers, the parents, the community of Uvalde and in fact the entire state of Texas.  They failed.  Steve McCraw is failing now by not recognizing and admitting that failure.   McCraw says he won’t resign from his position because his department did not fail the community…and he would have resigned if his department had failed.  This is also wrong.  The person who can admit failure and commit to making changes so that failure does not occur again…should not resign.  It’s the person who denies the failure, who excuses it, tries to explain it away as “just some mistakes” and by that denial and minimization ensures that he will NOT commit to making the radical changes needed to ensure that failure is not repeated who needs to resign or be removed by whoever has the authority to do so.

It’s clear that McCraw is unable or unwilling or both to admit that DPS was wrong from the first minutes it reached the campus.  They were.  Every LEO there was wrong from the first minutes he or she reached the campus.  They ignored the guiding principle taught in mass shooter situations: confront the shooter ASAP.  You don’t wait for permission.  You don’t wait for assistance.  You don’t wait for a bigger caliber weapon, a combat vest, a shield.  You don’t wait for “an expert negotiator”.  You don’t wait to decide which person or agency should take the lead.  You confront the shooter *at once*.  That approach, and only that approach, saves lives.  Yes, it is dangerous.  Yes, at least one and possibly several LEOs are likely to be shot.  But that’s the best–the only–workable approach that leaves the most innocents possible alive.  Not doing that–not even *trying* to do that–defines FAILURE.

If you don’t teach that, train for that, prepare for that, ensure that every single officer KNOWS that’s what’s demanded of him or her in a mass shooter situation, and as far as possible weed out those officers unwilling or unable to comply…you are training for FAILURE and not SUCCESS.   What is success in a mass shooter situation?   Every law enforcement officer that reaches the scene engages the shooter ASAP.  Over and over if necessary.

Admission of failure is order to achieve success is vital in many, many, MANY more situations than a mass shooter incident, including minor ones.  I learned that lesson as a child from my engineer mother.  If you pretend an airplane falling out of the sky is “just an accident”…you cannot make airplanes safer.  If you treat using bad parts, or failing to follow manufacturing best practices “just a mistake” you cannot prevent more airplanes from falling out of the sky, more cars crashing, more medicines “accidentally” containing toxic materials, more ice cream making people sick.  None of those things are “accidents” or “simple mistakes”–they are failures.  They are caused by humans being ignorant, selfish, lazy, greedy, etc.

When my mother was a liaison engineer for the Army Air Corps at Douglas Aircraft during WWII, the factory where she was in charge of “quality control” or adherence to technical instructions  was building C-54s,  a four-engine aircraft used primarily for cargo transportation and vital to moving people and equipment from place to place.  And in one period, these aircraft had a bad habit of suddenly losing the nose of the aircraft, including the cockpit.   My mother figured out why, and stopped production to tear down a nearly finished airplane to examine the framing member she was certain was at fault.   Everybody was mad at her, of course.  This blew their production schedule to smithereens.  How dare she!!

But she–the engineer–had figured out which part was faulty, and she knew those parts showed no sign of that fault when they arrived at the factory (she had examined them, and at every stage up to the point where they were covered up.)  She looked at the nearly-completed plane with that part uncovered…and there it was.  A crack in the framing member that, after the stresses of flight, fatigued to failure.  The factory that made the part didn’t want to admit they had a problem.  The factory she worked in didn’t want to admit it.  She admitted it, pursued it, and saved lives by finding and reporting it.

I grew up with “the first thing you do when you make a mistake is admit it.  So you can fix it.  So you can prevent it next time.”  And from that, on a larger scale: If you fail, admit it..analyze the failure…and what it will take to prevent it.   This was pounded into my unwilling head from about age three (I kept leaving my glass so close to the edge of the table or counter that it kept getting knocked off, usually by me.)  on up.  Do I *always* admit and analyze all mistakes and failures?  No.  I’m not perfect.  I’m as capable of screwing up as anyone.   As capable of making excuses and defending myself as anyone…for awhile.  But the rules “There are no accidents: they are all caused” and “If you can’t admit failure, you can’t achieve success” are engraved on my mind, heart, and bones.  For someone in a position of public trust, such as the head of a major law enforcement agency, to call the slaughter in Uvalde “some mistakes were made” instead of “We failed” is unacceptable.

If you don’t admit failure…you’re committing to repeating it.   That approach happens too often, and in both trivial  and critically important situations.  Steve McCraw must be brought to understand that failure, in this case, cost the lives of twenty-one innocent people, two teachers and nineteen students.    Not admitting the failure ensures that similar failures will continue, using the same excuses, the same faulty reasoning.


9 thoughts on “If You Can’t Admit Failure….

  1. As Lady Cecelia would say – bad words bad words bad words.

    And I think that Ms. Moon is a little pissed.

    No abortions, children must be born – and then they just stand around while they are murdered. BAH

  2. So right.
    The road to wisdom? – Well, it’s plain and simple to express: Err and err and err again but less and less and less
    (Piet Hein)

    You have to admit the error before you can correct it.

  3. Thank you for saying so eloquently what I have been feeling, but could not find the words for. May your words travel forcibly to those who most need to hear them.

    And blessings to you!

  4. Interesting contrast with the public enquiry over here (UK) into the Manchester Arena bombing. We have seen Ambulance service, Police etc. standing up and publicly apologizing for and acknowledging mistakes and promising to learn from them. Whether that (learning and making changes) really happens remains to be seen but at least they admit they got it wrong which is the first step.

    1. Not much, but every drop helps. The most recent 3/10th of an inch was followed within hours by a strong, gusty, warm wind (got over 80 yesterday) that dried the top of the soil immediately. And 3/10ths of an inch doesn’t soak in very far. We do have a slightly green cast now from the rain so far, better in the places horses haven’t been.

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