What Shall I Do With My Errors?

I recall step 26 of Steps to Knowledge as a particularly helpful step for me, because it pointed out the difficulties with culturally conventional approaches to errors. It also gave some ideas as to what one should do.

The first thing to do is to resolve to derive value from error. Deriving value means to learn what is real and what is not, to learn what is important and what is not. I had a season of life where I was involved in the writing of scientific papers. Part of the process was to edit a paper after it had been reviewed by other researchers. My mentor encouraged me to extract every last drop of possible improvement from the comments of the reviewers.

Another thing to do is to look for cues and precursors. For example, it has been known for some time that people who are overweight have reasons for eating other than hunger. Sometimes they eat from boredom, or from loneliness.  Part of the resolution of these issues is becoming aware of the things that were done, or left undone, that supported the error. A painful error doesn’t just leap out of nowhere by itself; it has a gang of aiders and abettors, it has a complement of accomplices. Deriving value means identifying the accomplices, and subjecting them to the same scrutiny.

I believe someone is reading this and thinking “That sounds like a lot of work.” Perhaps, but I consider it a fair price to pay for the experience of being able to say to myself, “I’ve learned my lesson.”


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