Human Fallibility

Long Beach, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrin...
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We have this thing in us that is completely incapable of avoiding fallibility (errors). Have you ever made a mistake when doing something and wondered how you could have made such an obvious silly error?

We also have this thing in us that makes us want to distance ourselves from completely being fallible (wrong). How many times have we expressed regret over something that we did or watched people go public denying their involvement in something that went wrong?

Necessary fallibility is the unpredictability of events that take place from an error that at first appears completely disconnected from events taking place.

The problem is that most of us try our very best to avoid being fallible (wrong). It is a survival skill necessary because of our simple hard-line approach to right and wrong. When a person is right, they are rewarded with approval, promotions, positive reviews. When a person is wrong, they are punished with reprimands, disapproval, negative publicity and even job loss.

The bigger problem is that fallibility is (errors)unavoidable. We are incapable of doing everything correctly. Mistakes can only be avoided if we find of ways of first accepting their inherent role in our lives. Only then can we learn from these errors in order to prepare for future unknown events.

When I think of necessary fallibility events such as the current financial crisis due to errors made in  real estate practices or the devastating hurricane Katrina where systemic engineering errors on  levees led to the worst natural disaster to affect an area in the United States or the dumping of millions of gallons of oil into the gulf coast due to the a simple

Perhaps we have been approaching errors all wrong (no pun intended). Rather than be quick to punish for the error, we should perhaps consider the possibility of encouraging  the discovery of errors. Errors in our society give us insight into possibilities around us.

In this TED video from Kathryn Schultz who is a wrongologist she talks about our need to avoid being wrong. Kathryn Schultz challenges the idea of being wrong and proposes a different solution to our approach  to being wrong.

My book recommendation for this week that connects to this topic is:

“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande.  It is an amazingly easy read. The simple break through of using check lists revolutionized the medical industry and  highlights the  absolute necessity to embrace our fallibility in order to find solutions to bigger systemic problems.


4 thoughts on “Human Fallibility

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is amazing blog. An exquisite read. I’ll definitely be back.

    1. Hello Hebert,

      Thank you and I must confess I am an avid reader and writer. This blog makes me just write for the sake of writing without any other intentions. You are right however, graphics are not my forte.

      Thank you

  2. I found Reflecto’s mention of survival skills in this article interesting. I would like to suggest, however, that the survival skill did not grow out of our hard line approach to right and wrong, but that the hard line approach is a product of that skill. Scientists have entertained the term “adaptation” (sorry, but all my reference material is in some storage warehouse somewhere). Some psychologists have extended this term to our mental lives. Simply put, organisms which make the best decisions and take the “right” course of action have the best chance of survival. I do believe the recent trend to look into what went into the mistake, like in the medical field example above, is the best way to confront the fallibility which is a part of us. Reflecto is getting into some really neat stuff here.

    1. Thanks David,

      Perhaps there is something to be said about the fact that we can now have the luxury of attending to our mistakes unlike our stone age counterparts who were constantly engaged in the act of survival. I wonder, how much further could we advance as a species were we to actively engage in the process of examining our mistakes as much as we engage in the celebration of right choices?

      Perhaps it is time to visit that storage warehouse?


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