From the Headmaster's Desk
I remember watching Raiders of the Lost Ark with someone who, along with one-third of the population (including Indiana Jones), suffered from ophidiophobia. During the Well of Souls scene he writhed and wriggled more than the snakes, which were not CGI imitations but sourced by Spielberg mostly from pet shops near Elstree Studios. I like snakes, more or less, but have the same need to hide behind my hands when watching Governor Rick Perry, in an excruciating moment in a 2011 US presidential debate, unable to name the third government agency he would abolish. I cannot even bring myself to include a link.
You may have seen an obituary of the great character and ‘peacock of the fairways’ Doug Sanders in April. Though a superb golfer, he missed a three-foot putt for the 1970 Open. Scott Hoch slid the ball left of the hole from 24 inches to lose the 1989 Masters. One golfer took an age, the other barely considered the shot; it didn’t matter, both missed. Seeing someone fail in this way makes me cringe and feel sad. Perhaps this arises from noble empathy or because it feels unjust; or maybe because it prompts recollection of my own embarrassments.
Stress and fatigue clearly affect brain and muscle function. Prior near-misses, a false sense of security (I made a mistake recently because I read something off a piece of paper without thinking), confirmation bias, doing something slightly differently… Mistakes have a hundred different causes. Humans are not computers [thank goodness].
To err is human, said Alexander Pope. Given the frequency of our own mistakes and our great capacity to see them in others, one might expect us to be at ease with them. As a society, however, we increasingly think that mistakes have the same culpability as premeditated acts, and therefore, because someone is at fault, they should be punished. But the real fault lies in our (shared) imperfect human condition. In last night’s lecture about mental health in lockdown, Angharad Rudkin said, in effect, that we should cut ourselves and others some slack. Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it, said Salvador Dali.
Sometimes we don't recognize mistakes at the time. In the final Yes, Prime Minister episode, The Tangled Web, Jim Hacker unwittingly ‘lies’ to the House of Commons despite thinking he had given a ‘clear, simple, straightforward, honest answer’. Hindsight is 20/20. The first version of the virtual timetable had lunch from 1200-1300, and after a few days I realized it was a mistake. These mistakes – as, indeed, with other mistakes – should, I hope, be judged on how they are handled. (To see how Hacker handles his ‘mistake’, please consult the episode.)
Pope said, of course, To err is human, to forgive divine. I am certainly not claiming that we should smile on wrongdoing. I am talking about mistakes and errors that have no malice aforethought. At these times, when we are around the same people and therefore consistently exposed to their errors – just as they are to ours – we need to forgive them, and ourselves, more.