I was at the gym recently when I heard commentators from various programs who were angry, appalled, worried and possibly even frightened as they engaged in conversation about a recent event. I won’t go into the details, but they were sharing their views about a certain call referees made regarding what appeared to be a double catch at a football game. It was as if World War III had broken out.
Basically, what it boiled down to was the commentators believed the referees had made a mistake. Suddenly, the world was going to end because people are not allowed to make mistakes, and if they do, they must suffer intense and even savage punishment because mistakes are horrific. The message here simply appears to be that mistakes cannot be made.
Say those punishing the referees like Salem Witch trial judges are wrong, because to err is human, after all. That doesn’t bode well because the average person will resist the admittance of a wrong, almost like a trained soldier tortured for information, and if there is no realization of the wrong, then at least one individual believes he or she is still right.
Being wrong and making a mistake seem to go together in that the average person learns early on that both are to be condemned and avoided at all costs. While we say to err is human and that it is admirable to admit we are wrong, the message put out there is quite the opposite. It has created a climate in which mistakes do not happen, and if they do, they are horrible, and it is easier to eye everyone else suspiciously than admit we might be wrong.
The reality is, to err is indeed human and we are all going to make mistakes, and we all do make mistakes. That doesn’t necessarily mean we shrug off our mistakes and act as if they never happened and didn’t have an impact on anyone, but since it is something all humans do, it also does not make sense to condemn someone for doing something that is very human and unavoidable, acting as if we just found a stash of bodies in that person’s basement or discovered they were plotting to blow up America.
It is going to happen over the course of someone’s career. Even the highly skilled surgeon who saves countless lives each year, may, in his or her career, make a mistake or two and, given the profession, those mistakes may be costly.
It seems as if the mistake cannot be overlooked, depending on the impact on the individual under the knife. It seems this is one reason insurance exists to protect the surgeon and compensate the family. But it also doesn’t mean suddenly announcing or acting as if the surgeon who saved countless lives is now an idiot, even evil, who should be fired and shunned, despite the countless lives that individual saved before the mistake and will likely save after the mistake.
To err is human.
But say initially that is what occurs. Good luck seeing that course of action, that attitude reversed, because admitting a wrong is a nearly impossible feat for the average individual.
Most of us avoid thinking about being wrong, or are willing to admit that we are wrong.
So those condemning the referees were not wrong.
Of course, until one realizes he or she is wrong, a wrong has not occurred, at least in that individual’s mind.
We tend to assume that we are right and the other individual is ignorant or an idiot.
Instead, we should accept that we make mistakes and that we could be wrong.
From very early on in our development, we are often taught that mistakes are bad, and so is being wrong, something that is reinforced by our parents and even our teachers. Even by doing something so simple as pointing out mistakes on homework and tests, without putting anything in perspective, we are encouraging people to strive to not make mistakes, instead of realizing that to err is human.
So basically the message is don’t make a mistake because you are not human and no one is ever wrong, because it will be no good for anyone involved, unless you are the person who is right, I guess.
On the contrary, I prefer to believe humans are capable of all sorts of beautiful and powerful change and that talking about it is just one step toward evolving. To err is human, and it is possible to step out of that trapped feeling of being right.
Reach Editor Stephen Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.