Tag Archives: error

The Emperor’s Old Clothes

If the emperor had woken up the following day and realised that perhaps clothing invisible to the stupid wasn’t a good way to go, he might have acknowledged the mistake and got in with his life. Making mistakes is inevitable for humans. We all do it. Lack of experience, not having the right information, miscalculating, and a host of other reasonably honourable, natural shortcomings can result in getting things wrong.

One answer at this point, emperor-style, is to just insist that you are right, and require everyone else to go along with the farce. Real life dictatorships do this kind of thing, I believe. But yesterday I listened on the news to the story of someone who had failed to spot rickets in a baby who consequently died. The parents were accused of murder, and went through 2 years of total hell. Other experts think the rickets evidence was there to be seen. But the person who made the mistake is in court saying that the evidence isn’t there. When people acknowledge error, there is scope for learning. Other lives can be saved. Future suffering can be reduced, or avoided.

It takes courage to admit a mistake, especially with the current blame and litigation culture. It would be healthier to encourage people to own up. It would also be good if we could collectively acknowledge the idea that people do make mistakes. And not just ordinary people, but professionals and experts. Professionals misdiagnose, misjudge, underestimate, overestimate, and all the rest of it. Professional people are not magically infallible, and yet I’ve run into a few who will answer any query or challenge with an assertion that their professional status means they must, by definition, be right. This kind of arrogance is incredibly dangerous. A person who thinks they know it all already does not listen properly or consider the evidence. Not least, they will never be able to identify and properly handle a situation they have not encountered before. New things do happen. New diseases evolve. New technology creates new crimes, and so forth.

The sooner a mistake is recognised, the easier it is to get things back on track. It may seem like losing face, but the temporary humiliation is worth enduring. It’s so much better than what happens when you have to tune out whole swathes of evidence, or refuse to look at anything that doesn’t fit. The more you try to cover for a mistake, the more likely you are to compound it, adding to it with lies and misdirection, and possibly a few rounds of self delusion for good measure. Now you aren’t holding a cloth that doesn’t exist, you’re walking about in public with no clothes on. And really, by that stage it doesn’t matter what you want people to believe, they know they can see your arse, and not a one of them is ever going to take you seriously again.

Mistakes are inevitable to the learning process. If it isn’t acceptable to get things wrong, then it isn’t possible to learn or experiment. Giving permission to yourself, and to others, to be imperfect, is really useful and allows amazing things to happen. It enables the new bard to stand up and have a go. It enables the druid student to call to the spirits of place and not feel awful that their voice quavered a bit and the words weren’t quite perfect. Accepting mistakes opens the way to compassion and greater mutual tolerance. It turns us away from blame and anger, towards cooperation and getting problems solved. It allows us not just to be human, but to be the best kinds of humans we can imagine ourselves being.

Yes, I have made mistakes.

Does my bottom look big in this?