By Zach Hagadone
When I screwed up and spelled “Tolkien” wrong exactly seven times (including in the headline) of a TV review in the Sept. 8 paper, my first impulse was to dig a 6-foot-3-inch-long grave and crawl into it. Remembering that I had kids to get to school the next morning and a wife who might miss me — at least at first — I reckoned live burial wasn’t an immediately viable option.
Instead, I posted my mea culpa to Facebook:
“I have mad many stupid errors in my 20+ years as an editor and reporter. Probably more than should be allowed for me to claim those vocations in good faith. One time, I declared Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth dead before she actually died (but only by three years). The big one was when I transmitted the wrong lottery numbers to every paper, radio station and TV news program in the state, back when I was a 22-year-old AP staffer in Boise. … Somehow, this error feels worse than all the others.”
Social media, and the wider internet for that matter, rarely lives up to its initial utopian idea; of fostering human oneness. This time, somehow, it kind of did. Rather than being made fun of for my stupid mistake, others shared their own public embarrassments, which made me feel less alone in my shame — particularly when it came from fellow writers and editors, whose identities I will protect.
One prominent local writer recalled being assigned to take a photo of Sarah Palin’s childhood home in Sandpoint, which she did. However, she took a picture of the wrong house and, after the photo was published, the resident started receiving Palin fans on her lawn. No one was pleased.
Another friend who works in marketing told me that the first ad she designed featured the phrase, “all you can eat crap,” rather than “all you can eat crab.”
Speaking of crap, Reader publisher Ben Olson once received a very polite note from Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo’s spokesperson asking if the he wouldn’t mind fixing the error in a recent edition in which we referred to their boss as “Mike Crap.”
A well-known columnist disclosed that in a verbal testimony before a state legislative body, she concluded her passionate remarks with the malapropism: “Ladies and gentlemen, these are the card hold facts.”
Finally, yet another very well known regional writer confessed to me that early in their long career, they also “killed off” a prominent political figure before their time — in that instance, no less than Lady Bird Johnson.
This was an unexpected social experiment, which it turns out has been studied elsewhere.
An article in Forbes from 2021 focused on the trait of “intellectual humility,” which it defined in part as “a willingness to express uncertainty and the propensity to admit mistakes.” It turns out this quality is critical to “receptivity and acceptance of new learning and diverse points of view.”
Studies at the University of Buffalo, Ohio State University, Baylor University and Duke University cited by Forbes all came to similar conclusions: while we are often taught that single-minded belief in oneself is the recipe for success, intellectual humility — and especially the ability to own up to mistakes — fosters a host of even more positive outcomes both in work and life.
Leaders who fess up to their failings inspire more loyalty, communication and creativity among their teams. Individuals who do the same are generally regarded as more trustworthy and respectable.
I can’t help but think there’s a bigger lesson in this. We all do stupid things — on a given day, perhaps more stupid things than not. Refusing to admit them, that is, intransigence, may be the biggest failing of all and one that I suspect animates much of the divisiveness bedeviling our body politic.
That’s another thing the studies keyed into: people who cultivate intellectual humility are generally less judgy and willing to change their minds when presented with alternative viewpoints and new evidence — provided those views and evidence are based in fact, which the intellectually humble are also better at assessing.
To err might be human, but admitting it is divine. And instructive. You can be damn sure I’m never misspelling Tolkien again.
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