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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mistakes; not what they used to be

Back in the day, people made mistakes now and then. Remember "To err is human"? But these days people make mistakes all the time. That's the bad news. The good news is, no one commits crimes anymore, there is no rudeness, and nobody is a babbling idiot. There are only people who make mistakes.

When even the best legal minds that money can buy are not up to the task of extricating someone against whom there is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing or mindlessness, the last resort is the inevitable plaint: "I just made a mistake, man. What is your problem?"

My problem is etymological in nature. I seem to have missed the memo that defined a new catchall "mistake" that subsumed the definitions for acts of criminality, stupidity, ignorance, and all manner of bad behavior. Don't get me wrong, however; I like what such creative euphemism has accomplished. It has broadened the scope of socially acceptable behavior, bringing in from the cold the formerly sociopathic, narcissistic, and perpetually perplexed. Nobody has to suffer the humiliation of wrongdoing anymore, and that is a good thing.

Before "making mistakes" became de rigueur, people had to make an effort to maintain a semblance of good citizenship. Mistakes were held to a strict constructionist view by the community, and that made felonious behavior (including criminality, ignorance, and stupidity) something to be avoided. Some people would resort to gallows humor so as to appear infallible (i.e., "I was wrong once. Back in '76 I thought I had made a mistake.") But now, who cares anymore? No need to get worked up about anything. 'Mistakes are where it's at, dude', to use a mixed decade expression.

But, I could be wrong. I was once.

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