I err therefore I am

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s why we say, “To err is human.” Yet, there is an internal force which sometimes drives us to hide our mistakes, either from ourselves or others or both.

At times I have a problem with being wrong. It is always hard to swallow, it seems as if I should have foreseen all the difficulties or roadblocks. As my careers progress, it usually gets harder to justify experimenting because I feel that my hard-earned reputations will suffer if I make a mistake. At times, I end up sticking to the safe path, rather than taking a potentially riskier way. The result is stagnation and a boring life. *sigh*

To err, we know, is human. But if that is true, then why do we (I’m putting myself in this category) take erring so hard? Sometimes the idea that we have been so often wrong in the past that it is pretty much certain that we will be wrong again makes it difficult. As Augustine once said, Fallor Ergo Sum (I err therefore I am). But why can’t people admit to being wrong?

I stumbled upon a TEDx talk by Kathryn Schulz which spoke about why we need to get over our fear of being wrong. Uhmm…it made me think – Why is it so fun to be right? Why do we feel embarrassed or defensive to admit being wrong? How often have I been part of senseless arguments because neither side, having become entrenched in our position, is willing to back down or find a middle ground to resolve things? How do I think and react to error and mistakes? Why am I unable to embrace my own inescapable fallibility and imperfectness?

I consider and re-consider various life situations where I am quite certain about my analysis of the situation, and that my beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt notion may not always be how things really are, only how things appear to be. I have made and am still making choices and then discovering that they were wrong.

We act plain dumb when it comes to accepting our blunders – yet remain cheerfully and stubbornly hopeful that we will not repeat our mistakes, and the ridiculous reasons for why we are right about something even against all evidence and proof. It does not matter whether our beliefs are conscious or unconscious, or if they are true or not, they determine how we feel and how we act every day of our lives. The brain itself is geared to error because it makes such lightning fast assumptions to be able to function in this world of sensory overload. You cannot take in all available sensory information, you naturally filter on a need to know basis, this is what sometimes leads to being wrong and it being funny because of the ridiculous things we mistakenly do. Feelings also lead us astray with what we want to be true…especially when it comes to family, friends, and lovers.

Inattentional blindness is an excellent example of us not being able to notice things that are in plain view.

There are many factors that lead us to err. We have the ability of people to be unduly influenced by peer pressures, even though most of us think that we are independent thinkers not prone to being influenced by what other people think. Independent thought is clearly a worthwhile endeavor; however, it in no way protects us from error. The fact is, we are “profoundly dependent on other people’s minds”– we tend to automatically accept advice/help/support from people we trust, we tend to automatically reject from people who are unfamiliar, disagreeable, or confrontational. Perhaps, doing both to our disadvantage. Perhaps assumed knowledge can be source of tremendous error. We have an amazing capacity to deny even obvious errors. Recognition of wrong is against human norms!!

And what about if we didn’t err? Well, if we didn’t err, we couldn’t ever change or grow and become more wiser. If we didn’t err, then life would be a whole lot more predictable than it is, having good and bad repercussions. If we didn’t err, we would never experience surprise or have reason to reflect or think deeply.

One needs to come to terms on just how being wrong is perfectly “normal” and a part of who we are, and start to move away from the belief that being wrong meant bring sloppy, or stupid, or ignorant. I broke free from I-was-blind-but-now-I-see shell. It makes sense that our brains would want to take shortcuts for efficiency sake, and it makes sense that sometimes those shortcuts will be off. Being fallible is hard-wired into our system. It is our tendency to be wrong about our own potential i.e., the fact that we constantly overestimate ourselves and underestimates the difficulty of our problems.

Erring should be seen not as a gaffe to be avoided, but a gaffe that should be embraced and accepted as an inevitable part of being human. Since life demands that we make decisions based on what we think will happen in the future, it is simply inevitable that some of these will be wrong. That is not and should not be a recipe for skepticism, which is a lazy attempt to fend-off error. Being aware of the mistakes we make that lead to error is the only way to curb it: recognize that fallibility is a part of life (not stupidity), make an effort to ‘hear the other side,’ phrase our predictions provisionally and treat them as such.

Erring is just part of life, yet we’re so intent on being right, we cling to our beliefs and positions and ignore evidence that undermines them, and we gloat when we’re right and someone else is wrong. We stubbornly cling to and defend positions that are factually incorrect.

There is a the good side of error – We are obsessed with making mistakes, and while caught by this obsession, we end up not learning from our experiences, thus making it more likely to make additional mistakes. There is no manual on getting things perfect.

Erring is also what makes life interesting and even funny (although it can sometimes be tragic). We are punished for our mistakes with demotions, contempt and sometimes, lifelong regret. Human error routinely leads to death or lasting suffering. As someone prone to being wrong (me: with no excuses or blame-worthy referents), I also found myself less invested in “being right” about small petty things that don’t really matter.

To err is human; to be aware of and admit the error is far more inhuman (Just Kidding!!)

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Categories: Muddled Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “I err therefore I am

  1. Excellent! You did a great job expounding! I would have includes pride, which blinds us severely. Laughing at ourselves helps tremendously. I always embrace my flawed humanity, because that is when I learn the most, but strife towards holiness (perfection). Will send everyone else a postcard, when I get there. Awesome blog!

    • Thanks! Laughing at oneself takes courage…I am still to reach there 🙂 Right now, I am learning to accept that I err too – a tough thing to do when everyone else around acts as God’s gift to humanity.

      • Mess up is my middle name, but i am eternally secure, so I do not mind laughing at myself, since God does too. I have come a long way, but i have not met a person, who has arrived. Life is awesome, so all we do is enjoy it and follow Jesus. I could care less what others say about me. God’s opinion is the only one that counts. Blessings to you!
        Ps I guess old age helps hahaha

      • Age makes one more wiser. Guess thats why its said that one should age beautifully. Pass on the learning as our generation is lost in the world of wonderment in this world. 🙂

  2. It’s ironic isn’t it that we tend to embrace our humanity and are hubristic about being wrong? Err on, I say!! With laughter, and humility and wonder – for typically those errors are also what move us forward! 🙂

  3. We have something in common.

  4. I will always have a great sense of being then 🙂

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