De Filippis: Can we still admit when we're wrong?

I ended last week's column with the following sentence: "After hours of following suspicious foot tracks, Pogo turned to his friend and said these foot tracks are not from our enemies. They're ours."

First, I should have written "footprints" instead of "foot tracks." To write is human and to edit is divine. Obviously, I'm not divine. So, my editing falls a bit short of such lofty ideals.

Interestingly, these two points make sense to me as reminders that I am often my worst enemy. I'm going to guess many readers have the same issue.

If we are intellectually honest with ourselves, we usually find ourselves at the core of our own problems. The question is why. Why do we cause problems for ourselves much of the time?

I know in my case, it's usually because I misinterpret my circumstances. But, most importantly, I misinterpret the people in those circumstances. And I do that because those "people in my head" are not the actual people out in the world.

Here's the not-so-secret, secret: Our perceptions and interpretations of other people (people in our heads) are hardly ever the same people that we know in real life. Because our "real life" is happening inside our heads. The events are out there, but the interpretations are ours.

Sounds confusing, I know, but indulge me a bit more. There's a logical corollary here. If we react to the "real life" in our heads and make errors in judgment, our perceptions and interpretations might be flawed.

Speaking for myself, I'm batting zero when it comes to pre-judging other people's motives. Even so, I still base many of my actions on my guesses about people's intentions. That behavior seems to be an automatic process carried in our genome. And

that makes sense. Way back in the jungle, our prehistoric ancestors needed to make quick judgments and take the right actions or die as a result. Those who did survived, and we got their genes.

Well, I'll let us, flawed humans, off the hook a little bit. There are external variables that contribute to our problems for sure. The issue is how we react to them, which is always our choice.

The first step to making better choices is to do nothing. Pause, and take that extra moment to consider the consequences of your actions. Actions, whether they be physical, like throwing up the middle finger to the person who cut you off in traffic. Or verbal, like abusing the poor person at the drive-through window when someone didn't put enough catsup in your bag of burgers.

You see, we all make mistakes. We are all flawed to one degree or another. But, we don't see it because we become self-righteous when we see other people making what we think are boneheaded moves.

For instance, I've shouted verbal insults (inside my car) when someone makes a driving error - the exact error I just made 10 miles back.

As a society, we have some grave problems. We've stopped talking across the empty space between our political extremes. I think the first step to a cure might depend on us here at the grassroots level. Can we apply the same grace we give ourselves when we err to those with whom we disagree?

Can we consider they might be correct, and we might be wrong on hot button issues?

Can we allow ourselves to admit our own flaws and make corrections with the energy we often use to condemn others?

It seems to me until we can, we'll continue to dissipate as a society. If we continue on this trajectory, can the end of the American experiment be at hand?

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