“You know my methods, Watson.”
— Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Literature fans know that 221b Baker Street was the residence of a certain brilliant, but flawed, Victorian era literary sleuth. Sherlock Holmes was a man of few mistakes, many eccentricities, and an addictive opium habit. But it was his flawless analysis of cryptic crime scenes that drew in the reader during the 19th century as it still does today.
Perhaps it’s an aching for perfection in our own imperfect lives that keeps us coming back to characters that are always one step ahead.
Our desire for perfection, evidenced by embarrassment of failure, was on display yesterday on a tarmac at the Denver International Airport.
The evidence was just a simple mistake.
Our gate was B25. My family consumed nearly all of row 25. My daughter was in seat 25B. At three different times, three different passengers approached my daughter showing a boarding pass indicating “seat 25B.” With my daughter’s pass in hand, I politely showed each of them that she was in the correct seat. Then, I pointed out that they were reading the gate number, not the seat number.
It was a common mistake evidently, but what struck me was the response of the misplaced passengers. Each of them looked very embarrassed, shaking their heads, getting mad at themselves, and making uncomfortable jokes. It could have been called “classic” embarrassment.
But why were they embarrassed, and by extension, why would any of us be embarrassed at such a simple mistake, even though most of us probably would be?
In all likelihood, it was the public aspect of their “failure.” There were up to a dozen people sitting nearby who could have easily overheard the conversation, and certainly the failing passengers knew that. It was a very “public” mistake.
We act differently in public than we do in private. In private, this error would have been shaken off as a ‘senior moment’ or with a grumble. In public, it becomes a much greater calamity to the perpetrator.
The solution, while not perfect, is certainly elementary, Mr. Holmes might have said. Focus on what was learned, instead of what was lost. We can’t control the mistake as it’s in the past, but we can control the focus of our mind. Learning from a mistake is forward-thinking. Embarrassment is backward-thinking.
Also, what may help as well is avoiding something Mr. Holmes avoided as well. Gossip. The more you speak of others’ failures, the more you are likely to notice your own.
These are just a few imperfect thoughts, but in truth, a mistake is a just mistake. Whether it’s made in 25B, B25, or 221B, just roll with it and go on.
After all, the game is afoot and there are many things left to learn.
Yesterday’s simple gift of time … Some simple courtesy on a plane to help expedite some other passengers finding their seat.