Posted in Essay, Michael Watson

To Err is Human

Window ViewThis morning I was driving home from one of our favorite bakeries via a well trodden, quietly residential route, one I have walked and driven for more than thirty years. I was lost in thought and focused on the many speed bumps that inhabit that street. I was thinking that the latte had been suburb, and the new pastry way too sweet and most likely going to suppress my immune system for hours. Suddenly I was aware I had run a stop light; seemingly the light had sprung up overnight in the middle of a block.

The light is long overdue and should aid elementary school students cross the sometimes busy street in route to their school. Yet, motorists are not warned of a new light, and the light itself is partially obscured by overhanging branches. (Often the city puts up warning signs for motorists approaching new stop signs and lights.) The light seems an excellent example of a well conceived project inadequately implemented.

I missed the light, in part, because, as I drove down the empty street  I was thinking about writing a post for this blog. Familiarity with the way, and a downward sighted focus on the speed bumps added to the problem. Yet, ultimately, I was a distracted driver and I drove through a red light. Clearly, my responsibility.

I imagine that most of us are doing our best to be kind and attentive to the needs and demands of life. We imagine we have things under control, forgetting our attention is divided, and the ease with which mistakes occur. How often our attention fails and we miss whatever might be important in the moment. How frequently do we become angry with others for doing the same?

Here is a paradox: maybe we take ourselves too seriously. Perhaps we would be happier were we to substitute humor for anger, playful reconsideration for aggression. Humor and playfulness support our presence in the moment and encourage us to forgive one another and ourselves for our misses.  Yes, driving is crucial business, requiring all our facilities and best judgement. Many other tasks are also decidedly important, demanding seriousness of purpose and focus. Yet, we are going to err. Most of the time a bit of laughter is more supportive of learning than is self criticism. A light heart seems to aid the brain in becoming more skillful.

The fretful side of me wonders what other hazards lurk in the midst of well trodden, usually safe paths. Those voices urge focus and attention, reminding me of the real consequences of grave mistakes. Other voices remind me few mistakes are truly harmful. They encourage breath and play, humor as well as focus. Both points of view are important in a world of hazards. I’m wondering where the balance between them lies. What do you think?

– Michael Watson

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes portrait below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

3 thoughts on “To Err is Human

  1. I agree that one must definitely not take oneself too seriously, and that to err is human, and to forgive divine. I have made many mistakes in my life, and I forgive myself for being too young or scared or inexperienced or distracted, or simply because they just did not matter. Getting lost can lead to unimagined adventures.
    But there are certain areas of life where I have always been particularly careful, because one tiny mistake is more permanent than a tattoo upon your heart. I know a man who in his youth rolled his car while driving drunk, and one of his friends was killed. I do not drink and drive, because that is a chance I am unwilling to take, a burden I know I could not bear. I passionately believe in a woman’s reproductive rights and choices. But as much as that was in my control, I made absolutely certain it was a decision I would never have to make.
    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post.


    1. I like to believe we become more skillful with experience. When I think back to my youth I am amazed I survived. (One of my biologist friends insists Nature is wise to create 105 men for every 100 women.) If we are blessed with the ability to learn, we learn from the experiences of others. One of my dear friends hit a phone pole at about 90 mph. He and his new wife died. We were all still at university. From that terrible loss I learned to slow down; yet, sometimes I drive too fast for the conditions.) I remain awed by our human capacity to learn (I know that stoplight is there now.) and to survive.


  2. At my post in the museum, I remind kids not to run but walk for their safety and others’. One boy whom I stopped grinned sheepishly toward the sky and admitted, “I forgot!” To be young, I remembered, is to run spontaneously; to slow down, an obligation. For me, slowing is a way of life and a commitment. I do not begrudge youth its way. We balance by paying attention to all around and all in us. We are the buoyant youth and the slow contemplative at the same time.


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