Human Error

"I like them to talk nonsense. That's man's one privilege over all creation. Through error you come to the truth! I am a man because I err! You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes, and very likely a hundred and fourteen." Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

It makes me want to lift a glass with a hearty "hear, hear!" toward his end of the table. He's right! We humans are the ones with enough imagination to really screw up - and to reach the very heights of Heaven itself. It is humans who do this colossal, spectacular, repeated, seemingly clueless mistake making ... and it is humans who can imagine a thousand possibilities for finding the Truth.

We don't like it, though. We hate being caught "out" and making "mistakes" and not getting things "right the first time." We want to be sure to measure twice so that we only cut once, and we squirm under correction and resist the knowledge that will bring us better perspective and more wisdom. It is humans who are able to refuse to learn - and unlike the dumb creatures, we talk about it. In great, plaintive tones, we moan and whine when our imagined outcomes come out to bite us in the butts. How dare the universe not do as we have expected it to do? Isn't wanting it to be that way enough to make it true?

Nuh-uh. It ain't. Wanting won't do it. Wishing on a star won't make your dreams come true. Learning more things won't do it. Understanding the big picture and thinking outside the box won't do it. Intellectualizing and visualizing and conceptualizing won't do it. All those things might help along the way, and might give us recognition or inclination ... but after all is thought and said and longed for, the only thing that will teach us to ride the waves and to really surf our lives - use the power of all the wide ocean, here where you make contact with it under your own two feet, is the making of those fourteen (and more likely, a hundred and fourteen) mistakes, choking on the sea water, bruising ourselves on the uncooperative board, and getting out there to do it again. The path to Life is not geared toward frequent gold stars and extensive positive reinforcement. It's about the mistakes. They are what we are. They teach us to live, and ultimately, they free us.

I've been thinking about this ... about the blessing of a period of Novitiate - in any part of life. The learning part - the part where we're still novices and still need instruction and help and direction - the part where we're not masters yet. I find it very intriguing that although we humans are surrounded by artists and athletes and musicians and scientists and dancers and children (for crying out loud, we have all been children!), we still disdain our novitiates. What is that? Why do we do that?

Then, yesterday, I heard the perspective of a very old Saint in the Christian Church. Instead of our modern notion that "meekness" is equivalent to "spinelessness" or to subservience or obsequiousness, wherein the polar opposite is Pride, the old idea of Meekness was the opposite of Anger.

Ooooh! We know that. We know that the angry person is the one who has stopped taking in any information. We know that the one who doesn't spin out of control in an angry tantrum is the one with the power. (If you doubt it, use the clarity of this illustration: A man comes home early to find his wife in bed with another woman. He stands and looks and remains completely calm. He tells them he will speak to them in the kitchen when they are ready. He leaves. .... yikes! Who has the power there?)

Meekness doesn't fight what is. That's what meekness really is. It's as tough as nails, and it keeps going back in there to make the hundred and first and the hundred and second mistake, not because it is fighting reality, but because it it trying to find reality and enter it and participate in it. Children meekly listen to their adults, and posit theories about the world, test those theories, and revise them according to experience. We all knew how to do this when we were little. In some areas of our lives, we can remember it.

The meekness of an athlete accepts pain in muscles and tendons and joints and nerves, and the meekness of a musician accepts the lack of time "free" for anything but rehearsal. Meekness learns to surf. Anger rails at the ocean and remains standing on the sand. Anger is a child who refuses to revise his theories - who demands that it shall not be so when permission is refused. Anger refuses data. Slams the book closed, and says, Forget it! If this won't be what I want it to be, I won't know about it.

Anger is weak, and its opposite is Meekness - the old definition of Meekness - the strength to find the truth - even if it takes a hundred and fourteen errors.

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