Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Mea Culpa!

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

April 13, 2010

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

"To err is human, to clean it up transformational." ... Laurence Platt

I am indebted to Amy Flynn who contributed material for this conversation.

From the Cambridge International Dictionary:

mea culpa

used to admit that something was your fault


Admitting something was "your fault"  isn't being responsible. However, as dictionary definitions go, defining "mea culpa" as admitting something was your fault is good enough for jazz. On another occasion I may add a transformed definition of "mea culpa" to The Laurence Platt Dictionary.


When I tell the truth unflinchingly  about mistakes I've made in my life, I notice some of them weren't mistakes after all. Rather, they were deliberate acts of self‑sabotage, albeit at a subconscious level, based on deeply buried decisions made (perhaps erroneously) a long, long time ago. I notice with others, there was no deeper self-sabotaging going on when I made a mistake. I simply made a mistake. That's why it's called a mistake: there was a "Take one!", then there was a "Take two!", and then instead of another "Take" there was a mis-take.

Whichever type of mistake I make, the way I see it is I can make excuses  for it and explain it, or I can clean it up. There aren't any choices other than those two. Prior to transformation, however, there may have only been one choice: the former. And now, after transformation, to tell the moral of the story  before the end of the fable, so to speak, there really is only one choice after all. But now it's the latter. More on this later.

In the case of a mistake which you, after inquiry, realize was really self-sabotage, you have to be a BIG  person to 'fess up to it. Especially when generous people are willing to forgive you for making a mistake ie to cut you some slack, it takes guts to say anyway "No, it wasn't a mistake. I've looked at it, and I see I intentionally sabotaged something working. Although it wasn't clear to me at the time I was doing it, I've looked and it's obvious to me now I did that.". And then to clean it up.

In the case of a mistake which you, after inquiry, realize was just a mistake, it's also a big person who admits their mistake, and then cleans it up.

Of the two kinds of mistakes - subconscious self-sabotage and just plain mistakes  - it's the latter I dislike more. At least if I've discovered the self‑sabotage behind a mistake, I can blame something  - even if I blame a subconscious pattern laid down in a now irrelevant circumstance from a long, long time ago. But if I make just a plain stoopid  mistake, there's nothing and no one to blame. There's no excuse. That's harder. And with both kinds of mistakes, there's the additional inauthenticity the blaming brings with it which is this: blaming isn't being responsible.

"Wait just a moment!"  you say. "They're not the same. The one is blaming. The other is not  blaming - or at least it's not having anything to blame.".

But they are  the same. Not  blaming, in a very Zen sense, brings with it just as much blaming as blaming.

I don't like the vulnerability which comes over me when I know I've made a stoopid mistake, especially when there was no earthly reason to. When that happens, it's not exactly my shining hour - to put it mildly. I'm pretty hard on myself when that happens.

This means after I make a mistake, the space  in which I'm working now has not one but two  manifestations of unworkability  ie double jeopardy, double trouble in it. They are
  1. the unworkability resulting from the mistake itself, which makes the situation unworkable, and
  2. the unworkability resulting from me being hard on myself for making the mistake, which makes me  unworkable.
I know a way which gets both these forms of unworkability handled while simultaneously disappearing any feeling of vulnerablity and any sense of being hard on myself after making a stoopid mistake - all that, plus  it opens up a new possibility for being creative which wasn't possible until then. This way requires going through the eye of the needle.

One of the contexts for this glass walled studio  within which I work is rigor. Another is commitment to perfection. Each of these Conversations For Transformation essays are spellchecked a half dozen times or more, proofread repeatedly, then loaded and reloaded into an internet browser and scanned for layout and format another ten or twenty times or so more before they're declared complete and announced as ready for reading and downloading.

It's not possible to accurately track how many people are reached by the e-mail announcements of Conversations For Transformation. Some addresses in the distribution list are for individuals, some are for couples, some are for families, and some are for groups. And the distribution list doesn't account for e‑mail recipients to whom the announcements are forwarded. My guess is a total of two thousand people may be included, and this may be a conservative estimate - I just don't know with certainty.

Recently following the publishing of the latest essay in the Conversations For Transformation internet series, I was watching my e-mail server transmit all these announcements one at a time, when to my shock and horror I noticed each one contained a major mistake. I had copied and pasted the incorrect link address for the essay, a wrong URL  ie Uniform Resource Locator into the original announcement which perpetuated my mistake to all the other spooled announcements, potentially directing two thousand people to a webpage which didn't exist. That's what happened inside my twin contexts of rigor and commitment to perfection.

As fast as I could move my arms, hands, and fingers to my keyboard, I severed the connection to the internet, effectively blocking any further transmissions. But the damage was already done. Almost a third of the announcements had already been sent. I slumped back in my chair, then let out a groan followed by an expletive deleted.

I purged all the remaining announcements from the output queue, then recreated the original announcement adding a brief qualifying paragraph at the start saying I had made a mistake which some people had already received and others not, gave the correct URL, and apologized for any inconvenience my mistake caused. Then I resent the announcement, again to potentially two thousand people.

Truly I would have preferred it to have gone out perfectly the first time. However, the possibility which showed up with my mistake was the possibility of being responsible. No excuses. Just "I did it. Here's the correction. I apologize for the inconvenience I caused.". Nothing else. Ironically, had there been no mistake, there wouldn't have been the opportunity to speak being responsible. And however this possibility showed up, the way to manage it showed up right along with it. It didn't require a lot of thought. It was immediately clear to me what I had to say. I didn't like what I had to say. But it was clear to me I had to say it.

Then, as I was again watching my e-mail server transmitting all these corrected announcements, completely disbelievingly  I noticed another  major mistake. In an announcement like this, each recipient should only see their own e-mail address. One group of announcements revealed all  the e-mail addresses in the entire group. That's also  what happened inside my twin contexts of rigor and commitment to perfection. And it happened, no less, inside my correction of my earlier mistake.

I hadn't just put my foot in my mouth. With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I realized I had opened my mouth and changed feet.

Moving even faster than the first time, I severed the connection to the internet again, effectively blocking any further transmissions. I carefully checked the unsent e-mails in the output queue. All the e-mails in the affected group had already been sent. This time there were three  very loud expletives deleted.

The correction this time required I send an e-mail to the affected group, saying I had revealed their e-mail addresses to the group (something they already knew), and requested they delete the offending e-mail from their inbox, then empty their trash. Again I apologized for any inconvenience my mistake caused. This e-mail was very terse. It was obvious to me the less I said, the better. What had to be said was what had happened, my requested correction, and my apology. My much longer explanation waiting embarrassedly in the background to be told was unceremoniously dumped - deleted unspoken.

Two people responded as soon as they received the original announcement containing my mistakes - one person to each mistake. I am indebted to them for watching out for my rigor and commitment to perfection and Conversations For Transformation's workability. As it turned out, neither of my mistakes got in the way of the announcement being followed through by a record number of people. Nobody responded to the corrections. No one had to. They were gotten. The corrections were corrections. They weren't issues in themselves. They worked.

People are generous if a mistake is made when there's just a simple "Mea culpa!"  ie the mistake is acknowledged, corrected, and cleaned up. Don't make excuses. Explanations only get in the way. There's no responsibility in an excuse or in an explanation. Neither is there responsibility in "I take the blame"  or in "It's my fault.". What works is "This happened, I did it, here's the correction, I apologize.". This cleans it up.

End of story.

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