In Jo's Blog

I heard a wonderful quote yesterday on a radio program called This American Life. The episode was called “Visible and Invisible” and a blind man, talking about how he susses out new places given what he can glean from his various senses, described a night in a strange hotel room.

His normal approach whenever in a strange place is to scope it out by feeling his way around the walls to get the dimensions, then carefully moving inwards to locate the furniture. Once he has the layout down, he can function easily and most rooms, he said, are predictable.

This particular night, though, he wasn’t able to find the phone which he needed to make a call to his wife. He found the bedside tables, a desk and a coffee table, but no phone on any of them. It was only the next morning, when the phone actually rang, that he realized that the room had an alcove which he had missed by assuming the room was “predictable” –   the phone was on a table within it.

Girl in red sweater, back to the camera,  just off target for the door she is seeking

“When you’re blind, you just can’t assume anything,” he said. “But the problem is you get a picture in your mind, and if you get it wrong, you just live inside the mistake.”

He meant it literally – he had even been trapped in hotel rooms in the past, unable to find the door because he was so certain it had to be where he thought it was. His certainty prevented him from actually finding it.

You don’t have to be blind to relate.

We are dealing with conflict resolution in our senior staff meetings these days and that phrase “living inside the mistake” sounds like a gong going off in my head.

Because we all come to each meeting with our assumptions. We all think we know the way forward and we all assume that everyone else is operating from the same map.

That we may not is only slowly dawning on me.

Could we have different maps? I mean, we all keep looking for the door where we are certain it is (I am POSITIVE I came in right here – stroke wall over and over as if repetition of movement will make it appear),  and we keep repeating our positions as if the others haven’t also shared their ideas, thus changing the contours of the room.

Some of us have an aerial view and others are down on the floor immersed in all the tiny details. Some of us are shifting the furniture around while others are building new tables and chairs (and hiding the phones). Some of us are ready to entertain guests and others want to tidy up and get things in order before anyone new arrives.

But the thing is – we’re all inside the same room. We’re all looking for the door that leads to the road we all want to be on. Together.

The blind guy found the phone the next morning because the ringing convinced him he had been wrong the night before when he assumed there was no phone in the room. He also found the door and made his way out.

We don’t have his advantages. We haven’t had a lifetime of being proved wrong about simple things like where the phone is located or how to exit a room. We haven’t cultivated humility.

Continuing to live “inside the mistake” is a choice. Humility is the doorway to the truth. And truth – or at least the truth that leads to action – is, like it or not, a compromise.

Showing 7 comments
  • Shipra Pande

    Marvelous piece, Jo….gives you so much food for thought!

  • Tejal

    Excellent piece and indeed very though provoking! Thank you for sharing :-)

  • sree

    oh so true!!

  • Shy

    I’m going to be chewing on those last two sentences because therein might lie a lesson I seek.

  • Banno

    Jo, the image of several people in a room, on different levels, shifting the furniture around, etc., etc., is something that will stick. It seems to be the way we conduct most of our interactions in life. Yet the answers are so simple.

  • Jennifer

    I just heard the program you referenced yesterday and the phrase “living inside the mistake” struck a cord with me as well. So much so I wanted to write something about it and did a little research which led me here. I see you wrote this in 2012 And I can’t help but wonder about how our governments and our societies as a whole has us all “living inside the mistake.” It feels to me our systems are hurtling towards a paradigm shift whether we like it or not, political ideologies ultimately being irrelevant.

    • Jo

      Interesting comment, Jennifer! And yes, I completely agree about the way we are hurtling towards “something” – who knows what it will be? But with a man like Donald Trump leading the charge, I don’t expect it will be good. We live inside so many mistakes! My latest post, about my mother-in-law’s death at home is another example of how an entire culture can be operating under false assumptions: “Death should happen in a hospital” and how the entire process gets hijacked by professionals whose main interest is profit.
      I’d love to see what you write when you finish it!

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