Last week I attended the wrong burial. Nearly.
The couple with whom I was getting a lift after the Church service said they were sure about where the burial of my neighbour was taking place. There was only one cemetery in that area, they said and they knew where it was. I put my trust in them, never wanting to check any other thing. We followed the GPS into an industrial estate and came upon this cemetery. There was a burial taking place, for sure, but not of my neighbour. Several google searches and calls later, after being stuck behind rubbish collection and pallet trucks, caught in a traffic jam- it seemed rather surreal when we actually arrived at the right cemetery and managed to catch the last moments of the burial.
GPS, the Internet, our superiors, God, friends and family- we put our trust in many things because we want to be right the first time. How many people admit they were or could be wrong? I have a colleague who told me, ‘I am always right, you know.’ We speak of knowing about the past- the wisdom of hindsight, ‘I always knew that, I could tell, that was meant to happen, I told you so’, etc. We also put ourselves in others’ shoes, ‘If I were you, I do that.’ We like to fill in details for others too. As Alain de Botton says, ‘Our brains are primed to take tiny visual hints and construct entire figures from them – and we do the same when it comes to character. We are – much more than we give ourselves credit for – inveterate artists of elaboration.’ But the fact is that you are not me. Now British Supreme Court has conceded that the law based on foresight (and judged by hindsight) which has led people to be convicted of murder even if they did not inflict the fatal blow has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years. The joint enterprise law has been used to convict people on the assumption that others ‘can’ foresee violent acts by others.
I remember being hit by a teacher (in the days of corporal punishment) for saying I did not know the hymn I was supposed to sing for Christmas celebrations at school. Ever since that time, I have treasured anyone who says, ‘I don’t know’. Because that simple statement says many things apart from ignorance- it says of humility, courage and a desire to learn. Magicians take this human desire to be right and make it into a form of craft that tells you that perhaps you are not. Couple of weeks ago, I was at a event with a magician, who managed to bend a coin which was inside my palm. Incredibly that coin had been signed with an indelible pen and so it couldn’t have been just substituted. Yet I know that isn’t the entire truth but I will never know. I now carry that coin with me all the time as a reminder that perhaps we are not always right, perhaps we don’t understand or see many things. A little reminder that we can be wrong. And that being wrong has led to more creativity and inventions than we realise. As Thomas Edison was to say, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’