Simon Cowell
(June 2009)

Yes, that Simon Cowell.

In a remarkable piece for Britain’s Daily Mail, Cowell engaged in an honest and thorough critique of his conduct during the recently completed season of “Britain’s Got Talent,” concluding that he had made several errors. Among them: being too harsh in his live criticism of a child contestant, and not being sufficiently protective of the break-out phenomenon of the competition, the unlikely Scottish song-bird Susan Boyle.

Cowell writes that in the matter of Boyle, he doesn’t know what he could have done that would have worked out better (Boyle had an emotional breakdown shortly after the final show), but that he still accepts responsibility for not protecting her from the ravages of sudden celebrity. It is admirable is that Cowell really tries to analyze what other, more ethical options he might have taken in several scenarios during the program.

In one case, I would suggest that a decision he seems to be proud of was in fact the wrong one: when a 10-year-old forgot her lyrics and collapsed in tears on national TV, Cowell bent the rules and gave her a chance to come back and try again. Nice, kind…but unfair. If children are going to compete on a level playing field with adults, as they do on “Britain’s Got Talent,” they out to forfeit any special considerations due to their age. Cowell seems puzzled that he received criticism for having mercy on the young contestant. “In this instance, I thought giving Hollie a second chance was the right thing to do,” he writes. “Yet, ironically, I have had more complaints about Hollie being allowed to perform twice than anything else on the show. Isn’t that incredible? It’s certainly very confusing. Sometimes, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Welcome to my world, Simon. It is important, therefore, to go back and think such dilemmas through, using ethical principles to assess intentions and results, so better decisions can result the next time. Most of us don’t take the time to do this as frequently as we should. Simon Cowell, of all people, has shown that while he may not always have the most ethical instincts, he’s trying to improve.

Ultimately that’s all any of us can do.

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