I really screwed up on 7/10/12 ~~ missed my post. I’d become totally wrapped up in something with my kids and zoned out for several days, especially in writing. Thus, today’s post was going to be about SELF. Self-flagellation. Self-sabotage. Self – - – - absorption, protection, discipline, control, care . . . y’know . . . ‘self’.
I finally kicked my a** back into writing and finessed a couple of culminating plot points nagging said a**. And, of course, I vowed to write seventy million blogs as backup so I don’t let my colleagues down again. My stories and their conflicts rely heavily upon a central theme – atonement – and how ‘atonement’ – for good or ill – doesn’t really provide the fix humans seek to assuage guilt. I’m particularly interested in how bias and bigotry create situations where generally well-meaning people end up doing horrendous things and are absolutely clueless about the damage done.
At this point, you’ve got to be asking yourself: How did she get from self-flagellation to atonement to bigotry and why would this be remotely useful to writing? Ahhh, my friends, there’s always a way to spin a good tautology.
Mistake –> Awareness –> Remorse –> Analysis –> Response
Mistake & Awareness: When we make a mistake and realize we made a mistake, then we feel badly and consider the best way to make amends or necessary changes to avoid the same error.
Remorse, Analysis & Response: The remorse point is critical. For sociopaths, the remorse stage will be entirely driven by the negative effects of the mistake upon the sociopath. If you’re a regular everyday flawed person (and I’ll count myself here), then the remorse stage includes concern for harm befalling ‘other’ (people, animals, places, things, cultures, ideas, etc). Assessing the factors prompting the error includes determining what variables are in your control and how likely you are to face the same circumstances. If the variables are within your control and you’re likely to face a similar scenario, then you can develop contingencies to avoid the same screwup. If not, you can consider how to gain more control over the variables or limit the fallout.
I clued into my mistaken when I logged onto Gem State Writers to read Meredith’s blog and catch up on Gail’s post. I hadn’t arranged for internet access while traveling so I was behind that week. Of course, the problem was compounded by my brain glitch on the fact that my Tuesday (duh!) ALWAYS falls between Gail’s Monday and Meredith’s Wednesday. I feel huge remorse (ergo self-flagellation, or in this case, a public confession). I have a good sense of where my usual schedule skewed and have a few stopgaps in place to avoid another gaffe, though the sequence of events is unlikely to occur again.
But what if a person doesn’t realize his or her mistake?
What if s/he doesn’t have a clue about a significant error?
What if the unrealized mistake leads us down a dangerous path?
Or has harmful implications for others?
Allow me to introduce an extraordinarily compelling line of research. I’ve used the Implicit Project in both my ethics classes and those dealing with personnel management to prompt my students in ‘aha’ moments. The Implicit Project is associated with Harvard University and reflects collaborative efforts with other Universities across the United States.
The site takes you to a series of quick response tests used to determine our subconscious associations and preferences for everything from physical appearance to professional and social roles. As I further immerse in writing fiction, I’m thinking about this tool as a way to demonstrate character arc, to challenge stereotypical characters or plots, and to reflect upon ways I might unconsciously limit the scope of my stories.
Each day, human beings busily deal with so many ‘things’ (sights, sounds, demands, threats, or opportunities) that our brains operate on autopilot (a contributing factor to my blog snafu). If you’ve ever driven to work when you should’ve been headed to the grocery story, then you know what I mean. Often, this is a survival mechanism. However, it can also be a damaging response to the world around us, especially when we operate on autopilot in terms of whatever subconscious stereotypes or cues we use to make split second judgments about others.
If we aren’t even aware of the mistakes we make in judgments, then we can’t possibly ‘atone’ via the Remorse/Analysis/Response cycle. I suppose the adage, ‘don’t fix what ain’t broken’, should be adapted to ‘you can’t fix something unless you know it’s broken’.
What are your thoughts about learning from mistakes? Atoning for errors? How do you use the mistake/response cycle in your writing? And how might implicit bias create conflict for our characters or drive tension in our plots?
Note: I’ll be on another small road trip with my kids when this post first comes out, but will be able to log on and comment by the late afternoon.