2020: Our New Year of Hindsight

So sorry to start this year off on a down note, but statistics will back me up on this: if you are reading this magazine a week or two into the year, you have probably already given up on your New Year’s resolution. According to HealthFacts.org, studies have found that only 8% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. Why is that?

About 41% of people make New Year’s resolutions.By Jan. 7, 72% have kept their resolution.  At six months, 44% are still keeping their resolution. However, by the end of the year, only 8% state that they kept the resolutions that they made.
But all hail the 8%! And you hang in there, 44 percenters who will still be plugging away in June!

It won’t be a surprise to you that the most common resolutions are losing weight, eating healthier, making better financial decisions, stopping smoking, and spending more time with family. What is yours?

A Resolution by Any Other Name

The first known use of resolution was in the 14th century.  And although today we are talking about New Year’s Resolutions, my favorite uses remain (and thank you, Merriam-Webster):

  • “the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out” and
  • “a measure of the sharpness of an image or of the fineness with which a device (such as a video display, printer or scanner) can produce or record such an image usually expressed as the total number or density of pixels in the image a resolution of 1200 dots per inch.”

Of course in our business, the law, a resolution has other meanings. Black’s Law Dictionary defines resolution this way:

  • In practice. The judgment of a court.
  • In the civil law. The cancellation or annulling, by the act of parties or judgment of a court, of an existing contract which was valid and binding, in consequence of some cause or matter arising after the making of the agreement, and not in consequence of any inherent vice or defect, which, invalidating the contract from the beginning, would be ground for rescission.

The Perfect Year for Hindsight

With our new year having the very cool number of 2020, we absolutely must address the saying that will be on the tip of our tongues all year, that Hindsight is … 20/20. That’s an optical reference to perfect vision, as if we can see events clearly once they’ve happened, which to be honest is not really all that helpful.

Merriam-Webster defines hindsight as the “perception of the nature of an event after it has happened.”

There is also a thing called “hindsight bias,” which is “the idea that an event can be predicted after it has already happened,” according to Black’s. Psychologytools.com says that “once a situation has occurred, hindsight bias can make that event seem more obvious and predictable than was actually the case at the time. People may say “I knew it all along” or “why didn’t I do something differently?”

Juries can become vulnerable to hindsight bias, writes Erin M. Harley, as she looks at its detrimental effects on legal decision making.1 One example is when jurors are presented with a negative outcome (like an injured plaintiff) and are asked to assess whether that outcome was foreseeable or preventable. “Can jurors disregard outcome information or does the knowledge bias their decisions?,” she writes. “There is a large body of psychological research to suggest that it does.”

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping you see it all clearly in the present and the past.

SUZANNE CRAIG ROBERTSON is editor of the Tennessee Bar Journal. At the time of this writing (in December) she had already abandoned hope of change by resolution.

1. “Hindsight Bias in Legal Decision Making,” by Erin M. Harley, University of California Los Angeles, https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/guilford-press/hindsight-bias-in-legal-decis...

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