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To err is human? If so, Why?

Updated on April 20, 2017
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Great men of the past and present who found interest in the esoteric questions the day were off the mark. He is trying to fill that gap

Human = Error?

How can such a maxim come into use, except perhaps on the realization that errors need to be an integral part of humans? And the strong desire to scuttle any chances of the future generations confronting this with a view to bring in a change. Or, making virtue out of it, such that we celebrate errors as a unique part of humans. What else do we gain from errors?

I Know..

I know, I am questioning one of the fundamental tenets of human society. This particular idea is so ingrained in us that we have devised a flurry of arguments to keep it's support alive at all times, and under any circumstance. The proliferation of warnings and advisory instructions in and around our living spaces, notwithstanding the multi-layered safety net we have erected in our society, in fact, is a ready proof.

Few Examples..

A few of such gems of wisdom are:

1. Making mistakes teach us valuable lessons.

2. Mistakes teach us to be forgiving.

3. Mistakes help us let go of our fears.

4. Making mistakes is essential to living a life without regrets.

5. Mistakes help you grow as a person.

6. Mistakes can be fun.

7. Mistakes lead to success.

8. Mistakes inspire us.

9. Mistakes serve as a warning.

10. Mistakes allow us to see how we are like others.

11. No human is perfect and so everyone makes mistakes.

Maxims for Error?

We don’t stop here. Our understanding of errors has been enhanced by distinguishing between two types of cognitive tasks that may result in errors. The first type of task occurs when people engage in well-known, oft-repeated processes, such as driving to work or making a pot of coffee. Errors may occur while performing these tasks because of interruptions, fatigue, time pressure, anger, distraction, anxiety, fear, or boredom. By contrast, tasks that require problem solving are done more slowly and sequentially, are perceived as more difficult, and require conscious attention. Examples include making a differential diagnosis and readying several types of surgical equipment made by different manufacturers. Errors here are due to misinterpretation of the problem that must be solved and lack of knowledge. Keeping in mind these two different kinds of tasks is helpful to understanding the multiple reasons for errors and is the first step in preventing them.

Maxim of Maxims!

We continue. Now we try to distinguish between different environmental conditions that can lead to errors. People make errors for a variety of reasons that have little to do with lack of good intention or knowledge. Humans have many intellectual strengths (e.g., large memory capacity and an ability to react creatively and effectively to the unexpected) and limitations (e.g., difficulty attending carefully to several things at once and generally poor computational ability, especially when tired).

Where do you stand?

Do you make errors often?

See results

Errors are Avoidable

There are many opportunities for individuals to prevent error. Some actions involve communicating clearly to other team members, requesting and giving feedback for all verbal orders; and being alert to “accidents waiting to happen.” Other actions that include simplifying processes and standardizing protocols, developing and participating in multidisciplinary team training, and, being receptive to discussions about errors and near misses, are also in vogue.

However, large, complex problems require thoughtful, multifaceted responses by individuals, teams, and organizations. That is, preventing errors and improving safety require a systems approach to the design of processes, tasks, training, and conditions of work in order to modify the conditions that contribute to errors.

In fact, all aspects of life and living are formulated this way, which requires a commitment to safety, a thorough knowledge of the technical processes of care, an understanding of likely sources of error, and effective ways to reduce errors. And we take pride in this as the rational, human approach, which, no other species have.


No, Errors are Unavoidable, We Gain from Erring

But to me, things don’t look so easy.

So much preparation is not needed, for any other form of life, to do things in the right way. What is the difference between humans and all other species? How is that we are very comfortable with the argument that no human is perfect, and more importantly, we are at home with the corollary, say, all dogs are perfect? Why are we readily accepting the dictum, ‘to err is human’?

There is a big difference between humans and other species. Unlike other forms of life, humans tend to do everything in a style that is away from the natural (also, when they get used to the style, they may revert to the natural!), and, though the mating season lasts throughout the year, there is no visible post mating agony. Putting two and two together, I think it is rather intuitive to conclude that humans managed to release themselves from post mating agony, because of the efforts they took in cultivating such abstract entities like style, to control everything they do. That is to say, humans happened to reach the happy situation of much style and preparation to occupying all the activities of life fully, and as a result, there is less time or space left for mating, and none for post mating agony. And one dependable facet of every activity, which has the power to keep us engaged, happens to be, errors. Errors provide the excuse to keep us occupied, even when everything else relating to the activity we were engaged with, like style, fails to garner our interest. (It will be interesting to think of human life, how tumultuous our society would have been, that too with such a lengthy season for mating, had this not happened)

The post mating agony perhaps explains, how we happen to have most of our customs, ceremonies, codes and a host of other intricacies, centered around the human reproductive organs. In societies that are strict, puritanical or Victorian, all the harsh rules, customs or etiquettes, are of this, and, in societies that are modern and progressive, the liberated condition of populace, and the freedom to think beyond, also are about this.

Over the last many centuries of living, we have become successful in suppressing the post mating agony without even leaving a trace. As a remnant of our success, the complex defense systems made by our ancestors still remain here. We now celebrate these as unique elements of human nature, one of the most potent among them being errors.

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