Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To err is human

Today, for a second, I thought I'd lost a Panamanian golden frog at the Reptile House. It's hard to explain what a sickening feeling that is. Fortunately, it was just hiding on the side under the lip of a jar, no doubt laughing at me, but I actually ought to thank it for reminding me to have a sense of perspective.

A couple months ago I got the name of something slightly wrong in a story, and they had to run a correction, and it was a huge mortifying deal that made me and everyone look bad, and I was miserable and felt like a huge idiot, etc. It is important to remember at a moment like that - at least, in the work I do now, I can't kill anything. The worst mistake I can make is still really no big deal in comparison.

I used to think of something similar when I taught linguistics. One of the good things about my field, instead of teaching, say, medicine, or how to build bridges, was this: when a linguistic theory fails catastrophically, no blood is shed. I could be sure that none of my students was ever going to accidentally kill anyone using the material I had taught them.

Well, unless someone died of boredom, of course.

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