Being wrong is human, being perfect is the quality of gods. The reason we humans make mistakes is because we need to learn, we need to polish our lives and we need to grow. All these reasons are valid and yet often we are ashamed of admitting our wrongs- mostly because of our ego and also because society is not accepting of wrongdoing. Of course, reckless or deliberate wrongdoing is criminal but unintentional wrongs are right. I have been reading a lot about ‘wrongness’ (for example, see the book below) and it has made me reflect on things I have done wrong and how I tried to conceal my mistakes instead of learning from them.
Earlier this week, I went to a great presentation on medical mistakes and these are some of the six points I noted which made the most impact on me-
- Best people can make worst mistakes
- Systems will never be perfect
- Humans will never be perfect
- Acknowledge mistakes and learn from them
- Consider a way of working that is not wholly reliant on individuals
- Share your stories widely
Unless we learn that personally and collectively as a society that failures and wrongs are good for us, we will never grow as empathetic and creative human beings. That is why sharing our ‘wrong’ stories are good too- hope you will share some of yours and what you learnt from them.
I have not been to any David Bowie concert but his music has existed alongside my growth as a person. His talents, not just as a ground breaking musician but as someone who is as a holistic as an artist can be (poet, actor, director, producer, writer, dancer, etc), has been so inspiring. Bowie was a well-read and informed artist who drew upon a wealth of influences such as Tibetan Buddhism, German Expressionism, Mime, Japanese culture, history and Jungian psychology. He has often described himself as a ‘magpie’ and he was able to synthesise diverse ideas and use them in his art. Coming from a poor working class family, it must have taken immense courage to proclaim his ideas and intent. As the philosopher Michael Foley says, ‘Appreciating art is not passive but active, not reverential but familiar, not a worthy act of self improvement but an audacious and cunning ruse. To seek out what stimulates and makes use of it- this is the work of art.’ And Bowie was a master at this and so his entire life became a work of art.
From becoming totally immersed in his various personas- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, etc- to his campaigning for others- from Tibet to physically disabled children and to his perceptive thoughts on the internet, death, illness, etc. he comes across as a total person. He acknowledged his mistakes without arrogance or defensiveness (watch his interviews on Youtube) and his fears and died a hero. There was no drama about his death unlike his pop personality life. He even made his death into a work of art and then took his bow, humbly and quietly. I never realised how much influence he had on me until last Sunday when it was announced that he had gone. He wasn’t perfect but he was a hero. And most importantly, his life has taught us that we can be heroes too. Here is a video of him tapping out his song ‘Heroes’ using a bottle cap on his shoe, raising money for physically challenged children at the Bridge School concert, 1996.
There is a Buddhist story about a simple man called ‘Never disparaging’ who seeks the good in all but people chase him away, throwing rocks and sticks at him. However, he continues and in the end, becomes the Buddha, an enlightened soul. In the novel ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ by Victor Hugo is Quasimodo, a deformed ugly man with a heart of gold, who is reviled by all yet comes out as the best of all. Quasimodo is also a simple soul but his generosity and bravery make him worthy of praise. Both Never disparaging and Quasimodo are not clever but good. What they teach us is goodness is better than cleverness. Also, they are not good looking on the outside but from the inside, they are good. So they teach us that it is better to be good inside than outside. Nature makes sure that no one is perfect, even the most beautiful person has some physical defect, one side of our body is slightly different from the other. Quasimodo’s hunch signifies the baggage we all carry- whether inside or outside. So we are all Quasimodos in that respect but just like him, we also have that goodness. To recognise that quality in ourselves and others all the time is the most difficult part. And that is the struggle of everyday- to be kind, compassionate and good, not matter what.
Buddhism says that each of our emotions have two sides- positive and negative. While one can’t anything about having emotions and one has to live with them, one can change our reaction and outcome for each emotion. So for example, tranquility can be seen as a positive thing but taken too far, it can make us seem too complacent to be bothered about anything. So as long as we are happy in our little world, we are not concerned about the rest of the humanity. On the other hand, anger is seen as a negative emotion. But it can be a force for good too. It can be justice, it can be a strong concern to change something in ourselves and others.
I mostly live in the world of tranquility- happy to live and let live. But because of this attitude, I have been taken for a ride, people have cheated me and I have been hurt. It takes me a long time to be angry but I have noticed that when I am angry, I get things done. Recently a second hand shop sold me a radio which was defective. I took it back three times and each time the shopkeeper said that it would work after I tuned in at home. This has turned out to be false. The man also spoke to me in a patronising way. So last week, I got really angry- angry at both the man and at myself. But keeping anger bottled up is also negative, so I used that energy to research and get myself a nice radio. I needed to respect myself. No more going back to that shop and I am now back to my world of tranquility again. But I realised that it is good to get angry (but not destructively) once in awhile and get things done!
This week I attended a conference on healthcare and was struck by the phrase- ‘doing what is easy vs doing what is right’. The speaker was talking about healthcare and said, ‘Would you call 999, the emergency number, because it is easy or would you go and see the doctor for non urgent things because that is the right thing to do?’ I started thinking about this sort of thing might apply to other areas of our lives, especially moral dilemmas. But people, when faced with moral dilemmas, usually do what is easy, not necessarily what’s right. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to do something quickly rather than take time to reflect on what the best action might be.
This sort of dilemma also applies to many life situations, including work. For instance, you see a leaking tap in the office toilet and decide the easy thing is to ignore it since it is the maintenance people who deal with this. But is it the right decision? Should you go and report this yourself and save precious water and energy? Now I try to apply this question to every situation that puzzles me. But remember, men and women have different moral values and research reveals that women are not more ethical than men. We are all different- there is no ethical codes to follow, apart from what we decide to do. Each person has to make their own ethical and personal decision. This is the bit where the ‘easy and the right’ question come in. So next time you are faced with a situation that bothers you for which you are responsible, ask- “Is this the right thing to do?”