February 29, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

If a human did it, it’s probably in error

Cynthia DewesToday, Feb. 29, is an oddity.

It’s a day which only exists every four years: Leap Day. At least, I think we should call it Leap Day since it’s the reason we call this a Leap Year.

And the reason for Leap Year is that in trying to calculate time, someone way back when made an error according to celestial movements or something. So they had to add a day every fourth year to make it up. Sounds so human, doesn’t it?

People spend lifetimes making errors and then correcting them, all because we’re human. History and its events back to Adam and Eve prove this point. Of course, we make good decisions as well, but it’s the bad ones that are so aggravating and inevitable. Some of them aren’t even our own fault.

For example, how many times have we taken a medication because we were told we needed to by an “expert”? And how many times have we then been told, also by experts, that the medication is not only ineffective, but will probably kill us? This is so depressing, especially to pharmaceutical companies who are depending upon the medication to make a profit.

Sometimes we’re assured as a nation that it’s necessary to go to war for some altruistic reason or other. After all, we’d never go to war if the reasons for it were not altruistic, right? Then, sad to say, we find out later that we’re in: a) a war we can’t win; b) a war we had no business starting in the first place; or c) a war that will destroy our claim to the moral high ground. Or, as the World War II general said, “Nuts!”

Everyday things also illustrate the imperfection of human actions. Cooks trying to use up leftovers, a worthy goal, may produce something truly inedible. Oops! Or moms and dads hoping to establish peace and justice in the family may punish the wrong kid or impose too strict a penalty, leading to counterproductive results that are worse than the problem.

Retail stock buyers may fill their stores with products they judge to be trendy and popular, only to find their choices banished to Big Lots or somewhere because they don’t sell. In fact, articles of all kinds advertised in those early morning infomercials as beautiful, useful, clever or the latest thing could probably be sold only to insomniacs anyway.

People sometimes marry the wrong people for the right reasons or the right people for the wrong reasons. This may or may not lead to marital happiness. In fact, relationships of all kinds seem especially prone to human error, including those in families, at work or among friends. That’s one reason self-help and self-improvement tools, courses and gurus flourish.

We understand when we err because of the pain it inflicts upon us. We get physically sick or emotionally battered. We lose jobs, spouses, friends or our own self-respect. We suffer embarrassment or punishment or rejection, and we know why. The problem does not lie in realizing that we’re imperfect, but rather in avoiding its results as much as possible.

Lent provides us with the perfect time to meditate on human error. And while our inclination is to dwell on the errors of others, which is so darn satisfying, we must pull ourselves together and think about our own mistakes.

Happily, we have the promise of Easter to motivate us.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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