To err is human, they say.
Most people know that to err is human. What arises from that is something I explore in outline here.
I do not give out my mobile (aka cell phone) number or private email address to loads of people who might think of me as their friend. Why? It’s not because I don’t trust them. It is only because I do not trust the capacity of human-nature to err i.e. accidentally release my details or claim some excuse about hacking of their email or phones (I’ve had this several times before).
Because ‘the humans’ know that it is human to err, general they think that:
- they deserve sympathy and leeway.
- others must accept an apology offered.
- non-acceptance of an apology by the person wronged leads to inferences that they’re arrogant and pompous etc.
- they can on occasion be slipshod and get away with it.
There are errors that are forgivable and those that are not. Let’s say you go for an operation to have a bad right kidney removed. You awaken following recovery from general anaesthesia and you think, “Right..I’m in pain.. but it’s sorted now.”. About two days later a senior surgeon of the hospital, whom you’ve never met before, Mr Excellent Surgeon, approaches you at your bedside and tells you in the most apologetic way possible, that Mr Good Surgeon who operated on you, took out the wrong kidney by mistake – human error! What do you do? Do you say, “Oh that’s fine cuz doctors are humans like everybody else and they too can make mistakes. I understand perfectly and accept. No worries. Thank you for your openness and honesty. I’ll leave it there now. Mr Good Surgeon, who operated on me, should not worry as I accept your apology on his behalf.”?
Well I don’t think any average person of sound mind and intelligence will accept the above for the biggest fattest ‘Sorry’ in the world. ‘What’s the point?’ – you groan. The point is that some mistakes are so wrong – so irreversible – that no apology will suffice. Minor mistakes that do not cause serious or prolonged loss/suffering can be remedied with an apology. However, major mistakes with serious after effects and loss, usually cannot be remedied with words of apology.
There is another important issue in the captioned example: irreversibility. When they chop out the wrong kidney – it’s irreversible. They can’t simply re-operate, put it back in and say, “There you are.. it’s all sorted now.”
Irreversibility is a big issue :
- when death or serious disfigurement is caused.
- when there is breach of confidentiality and/or privacy.
- after the word is spoken or received.
The mind game played out by some that I meet is that, “Don’t it happen to everybody?” Or the other technique for minimising responsibility is to say, “Could you have done better [with body language suggesting ‘you’re an arrogant sod!!’]?”
And another mind game associated with this is, “You just wait till he messes up.. I’ll fix him good and proper!!” Why do people do/say this? Simple – people don’t like to be wrong or caught doing wrong. They don’t like being corrected (yes – in general – even if they give lip service to the contrary).
My conclusion is that, it is irrelevant whether it is human to err because that’s just so elementary. It is often used as a get out card too often from all sorts of mistakes. What is relevant, is to know which errors or potential errors are reversible or not. Whilst it is socio-culturally the thing, to say sorry, ‘sorry’ often doesn’t change anything, when there are major and irreversible errors.