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If Only I Were Prefect And Never Maid A Mistak

July 23, 2010

For July 16, 2010

To err is human, to forgive divine. • Alexander Pope

As we travel by car from Oregon to Las Vegas, a drive that includes endless miles through desert and deserted country, I go over the presentation I’ll be giving and almost immediately find a mistake in my printed materials. This must be someone’s law: it’s impossible to proofread anything to perfection. I try, but I seldom succeed.

When I was a high school teacher, I promised a prize from the Chest o’ Treasures—a box decorated with faux jewels and filled with newspaper-wrapped toys and treats—to the first person in each class who found an error in any of my handouts. I did this to encourage students to actually read these printed materials.

Sometimes I deliberately included errors because I didn’t want students to be demotivated by the perfection of my offerings, but usually what those sharp-eyed teens found was something I’d overlooked. It’s a good thing I had lots of prizes. Perfect isn’t possible. I strive for it because I’m hoping I’ll produce high quality work, but even with something as short and simple as this blog, I find errors months later.

When I read student work, I generally have a three-errors-before-they-begin-to-count policy to allow a bit of room to be human. Since I’m not perfect, I try not to expect others to be. I love this quotation excerpted from Stephen Manes (1982), Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days!

Congratulations! You’re not perfect! It’s ridiculous to want to be perfect anyway.  But then, everybody’s ridiculous sometimes, except perfect people. You know what perfect is? Perfect is not eating or drinking or talking or moving a muscle or making even the teensiest mistake. Perfect is never doing anything wrong – which means never doing anything at all. Perfect is boring! So you’re not perfect!  Wonderful! Have fun! Eat things that give you bad breath! Trip over your own shoelaces! Laugh! Let somebody else laugh at you! Perfect people never do any of those things. All they do is sit around and sip weak tea and think about how perfect they are. But they’re really not one-hundred-percent perfect anyway. You should see them when they get the hiccups! Phooey! Who needs ’em? You can drink pickle juice and imitate gorillas and do silly dances and sing stupid songs and wear funny hats and be as imperfect as you please and still be a good person. Good people are hard to find nowadays. And they’re a lot more fun than perfect people any day of the week.

It isn’t always fun being imperfect, but it is inevitable, at least in my world. Sometimes, you just have to laugh about it. Sometimes you can ignore it. Sometimes you have to apologize for your humanity.

What was the last mistake you made and what did you do about it?

They say that nobody is perfect.  Then they tell you practice makes perfect.  I wish they’d make up their minds. • Wilt Chamberlain

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