20 September 2009

Trial and error

The best part of having to attend a convocation meeting this afternoon in Greenwood was not the presentation I made or the interaction with old friends I'd not seen since leaving the Church of the Ridge, although both of those aspects of the afternoon were rather pleasurable. No, the best part was the drive -- 45 miles each way -- and getting to listen to NPR. On the way to Greenwood I caught the better part of Garrison Keillor's weekly monologue. Delightful. On the way home, however, I was almost transported by a discussion of the diagnostic process on "The People's Pharmacy."

While it was about medical diagnosis, it gist of the discussion had to do with not knowing, with trying the most obvious thing first, with being wrong and beginning again. One line had me laughing out loud (still in the realm of medical diagnosis): "If you hear the sound of distant hoof beats, think horses." So, if it looks like strep, it probably is. Start there. Tell the patient, however, that if the antibiotics don't have him feeling remarkably better in no less than two days, call back, come back because it isn't strep. What else might those hoof beats be is the question? One more thing: Be clear about where you are. Those hoof beats, if you're on the plains of Africa, could be zebras!

Oh, how I hate making mistakes, to the point that I hide them when at all possible. During my drive home this afternoon, however, I didn't hear anyone saying to be sloppy or caviler or not care. What I did hear was an exploration of the reality that we don't know everything there is to know; part of the joy of life is the process of figuring it out. Trail and error.

Part of the entertainment of the discussion for me was finding myself thinking about the computer solitaire game, Free Cell. The rule of thumb at the outset of a hand is to uncover the aces as quickly as possible. The sound of hoof beats ... Do the obvious, right? But, sometimes the player gets herself to the point that no more moves are possible. The player could give it up as lost. Or, the player can back up to a point where other options were available OR even back all the way to beginning and simply start over. The good thing about Free Cell is that every hand IS playable, winable. The hard part is that some of those winable hands start out in very unobvious ways.

I need to lighten up. To entertain backing up sometimes, to reexamine the situation, the question, the problem. I need to play with ideas, with the possbilities. The process of working something through, staying patient and observant, is more the point than getting it right the first time through.

Now, let's see if I can live that! Ah, hoof beats ...

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