Each week we look at one of four qualities necessary to succeed in this public life, all of which come from a speech then President-elect John F Kennedy gave to the Massachusetts legislature on January 9, 1961. “Were we truly men of judgment,” Kennedy said posterity would ask about us, “with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past – of our mistakes as well as the mistakes of others – with enough wisdom to know what we did not know and enough candour to admit it?”
Judgment is a key quality for anyone in politics and public life. It is not only necessary for someone to be genuinely successful in the long term. It also marks the difference between the populist, who cares only for short term acclaim, and the genuinely wise leader. Not for nothing do we still remember the Judgment of Solomon. When and how far should one push a case? Under what circumstances should we decide that discretion is the better part of valour? Being able to admit to past errors – and then to learn from them – is a more a sign of good judgment than always insisting that one was right. Great figures in public life apply the lessons of history to the future, as well as being humble enough to change their view – to judge better – when circumstances suggest that to be the wisest, if not necessarily the most popular, course.
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