The Other I

January 14, 2013

Mistakes are a goldmine

I spent my childhood obsessed with Right Answers.   Solutions to problems were divided exclusively into two categories – Right and Wrong, and I was bright enough to get a large percentage of the solutions in the Right category.  But that left me with an exaggerated fear of the humiliation of being wrong.  So I avoided problems that I was not confidant I could solve, or problems that involved “thinking out of the box.”  This narrow thinking  permeated every area of my life, and didn’t leave a lot of room for experimentation or creativity.   I followed directions, I cooked by strictly following the recipe.

I have gradually given up this faith in Right Answers.  Whether in matters of religion or of science, in personal or impersonal situations, I have learned just how liberating doubt can be.  How it opens up a whole new world of possibilities – ranging from the meals I cook to my thoughts about the meaning of life.

I have just finished reading the book Antifragile:  Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Taleb , also the author of the Black Swan   He offers a fascinating view that suggests to me why this Right Answer approach is a deeply flawed philosophy for living.

Crises and stress, Taleb says, are unavoidable.  Not only that, but the potentially most catastrophic events happen so rarely that they are statistically unpredictable for all practical purposes.  Because crises – what he calls Black Swans – are going to happen, he argues that we are better off not trying to create systems in which mistakes can “never happen again.”  Rather we should create systems that can continually learn and benefit from mistakes and stresses and adjust, so that when the really big crisis arrives (ie – the unexpected “Black Swan” like the sub-prime banking catastrophe), the system is more apt to be able to deal with it without complete catastrophe.

He gives examples of what he means from a quite surprising variety of systems –  like evolution, or even our need to stress our muscles and impact our bones in order to strengthen them.   The entire universe and all the enduring systems within it are systems that have learned to change and adjust as a result of stress.  Survival depends on our ability to learn from our mistakes, rather than trying to avoid them altogether.

I think the idea underlies a wonderfully creative and daring attitude toward life.  I love it!

So I am now going into the kitchen and see what I can do with the herbs and spices and various seasonings we have hanging around to turn the frozen turkey leftover from our Christmas dinner into a meal that is a little more creative than the standard pot pie I’ve been putting together for years.

I hope it’s at least edible.  I really don’t need to learn from the stress of a starving household.



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