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It’s not just the confidence and drive to act. It’s having engraved inner criteria to guide action.

To slightly paraphrase the words of a New York Times columnist:

I once read about a guy whose childhood was a steady calamity. He was afraid, unable to control his mind and self. But he became a writer and discovered he was magnificent at it. Through the act of writing, he could investigate his fears and demystify them. He discovered agency by finding something he was good at and organizing his life around that gift.

Admitting error is not automatic. It has to be given birth to, with pushing and effort. It’s not just the confidence and drive to act. It’s having engraved inner criteria to guide action. The agency moment can happen at any age, or never. I guess that’s when adulthood starts.

Admitting error is not automatic. But it truly is the door to statistical adulthood. There’s no shame in admitting a mistake. It’s not too late. It’s never too late.


  1. Lee Sechrest says:

    Two stories.
    In Dec. 1950, I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps, way up north in North Korea. Things were pretty chaotic, but I was in a rear echelon unit, and our officers were trying to maintain some semblance of order. One morning we had an inspection, and our CO, a major, came down the lone and stepped in front of me. Looking at me only momentarily,he rather gruffly said, “Sergeant, why haven’t you shaved?” Quite spontaneously, I replied, “I have no excuse, Sir.” The major looked me square in the face, gave a little nod of his head, and moved on. That incident had a strong effect on me. I am sure I have not always “fessed up,” but I certainly came to appreciate the sense in admitting at least small mistakes.

    In 1952, I was an undergraduate research assistant doing data analyses in a personnel research lab. I had not yet had a course in statistics, but I was doing factor analyses, multiple regressions, and other such “fancy” stuff (for that time). I had done the analyses,including factor analysis, for what was to be my firs research paper. The paper had been accepted by a prestigious journal, when my boss, first author on the paper detected that something was wrong. I had made a fairly serious error in some calculations (can’t remember exactly what). The error could rather easily have been covered up and was probably not substantively crucial. But my boss calmly called the editor of the journal, asked to have the paper removed from the publication queue until the implications of the mistake were clear. Then without berating me, in a most kindly way, my boss let me through the analyses until we discovered the error and corrected it. The paper was then resubmitted and published. I was not fired, as I sort of expect5ed, and not treated with any disdain (I was, I think, a pretty good research assistant). I went on to work at that job for two more years (transitioning into graduate school)and being blessed with one
    additional paper in a leading journal.
    I learned from those experience. I learned that it is best to be straightforward about one’s mistakes, I learned that in the face of perhaps unexpected candor, the system can respond in a reasonable way, even when people are paid to be unreasonable. And I learned the virtue of being forgiving.
    One more thing. It is said that in college football and basketball, if your team is to lose a game, it is best that that loss be early in the season. It is best, I think, to learn to admit errors and other deficiencies early in one’s career. And to have a good mentor to guide one through the painful process.

  2. Gideon Avrahami says:

    Really, the wisdom of David Brooks? Have you read “Boo-Boos in Paradise”?


    I called Brooks to see if I was misreading his work. […] He laughed. […] “That was partially to make a point that if Red Lobster is your upper end … ” he replied, his voice trailing away. “That was partially tongue-in-cheek, […]”

    I went through some of the other instances where he made declarations that appeared insupportable. He accused me of being “too pedantic,” of “taking all of this too literally,” of “taking a joke and distorting it.” “That’s totally unethical,” he said.

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