Perception, appearance is reality

  • Published
  • By Maj. Richard Bailey
  • 460th Contracting Squadron
Appearances can be deceiving.

We should all endeavor to avoid the appearance of impropriety, meaning, we should avoid actions that create the appearance of violating the law or ethical standards.

This is a problem we all deal with in the military, especially as we progress up through the ranks.

As employees of the U.S. government, we have a responsibility to the people of the United States to act in a manner that will not disgrace ourselves, our service or our country. Oftentimes, it is not important whether we have actually done something wrong, but just the perception of wrongdoing is enough to do the damage.

That may sound stupid because we are all taught that people are innocent until proven guilty. Well, Lee Harvey Oswald was killed because of appearances. Enough people assumed he killed JFK, and he was shot before going to trial.

If you see your first sergeant in a government-owned vehicle parked off base at a civilian storage area, you might assume they are using the GOV for personal uses. It doesn't matter if they were using the vehicle to pick up government property that was simply stored in a civilian warehouse. That appearance of a leader in your unit could make you think their integrity is questionable or make you think it's ok to use government property for personal gain. It makes no difference the first sergeant was innocent of wrongdoing, the circumstances make them look guilty and your opinion has already been affected. What appears real might as well be real.

Our 19th President, Rutherford B. Hayes said, "In avoiding the appearance of evil, I am not sure but I have sometimes unnecessarily deprived myself and others of innocent enjoyments."

President Hayes understood the tremendous importance of avoiding situations that make you look guilty. He knew it was more important to avoid wrong appearances than to risk a possible "scandal," whether real or contrived. We must always be on our guard to the way our actions will be perceived by others.

Many of us have been alive long enough to say we don't care about what everyone else thinks because we know the truth. You may know the truth, but not everyone else does. We are constantly bombarded with appearances that cause us to make judgment calls. If as the squadron commander, I am perceived as partial to a member of my squadron and that person continually wins quarterly awards and doesn't get the difficult additional duties, what does that say to others in the squadron? What will they do in a deployed environment when I assign them to convoy duty? They may well think I'm doing it out of favoritism and disobey my order or worse, not be in top form during that convoy when an attack comes. It doesn't matter if my decisions were entirely objective; my actions put others in danger with the appearance of impropriety.

Appearances are reality. We must guard our actions and be aware that people do not know you the way you know yourself. What may be a well-informed decision on your part can be a wrong impression spread in tomorrow's rumor mill. Today's rumor mill is tomorrow's loss of faith in your integrity. Remember perceptions count, sometimes more than fact.