Albert Camus put it so well : “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life”. Our human condition is such that we all have to make compromises, adjust, sometimes rethink our goals, and carry on. Continue, or Correct?
Think of the time before Google maps: when we went into unknown territory, a new town and searched for an address. The process was iterative. With many stops on the way, much questioning the locals, moving forward and backward alternately: totally confused, insecure, feeling you have been on this road before, till by happenchance – suddenly, we found ourselves on the doorstep we were searching for long!! As we traversed the unknown roads and bylanes, the constant question in the head was : Correct my path? or Continue on this one?
This dilemma dogs us wherever we are and whatever we do. Correct? or Continue? and Google cannot help us answer this question in all walks of life.
“Correct” word can be used as an adjective or as a verb. As an adjective it denotes something which is already perfect, accurate or right. We are of course talking of “correct” as an active verb. The verb ‘correct’ denotes rectify, amend, ameliorate, cure or improve. It is this sense of the word that we are trying to understand and expand here. It has it’s Latin roots in “correctus” which signifies improved or amended. It is the past participle of “corrigere” which translates to “make straight”. Now tell me truly: how many times in the twisted paths and turns of life have we wished we could correct as in improve, amend or make straight? We chose a path, an alternative, an approach…and as soon as the first signs of challenge, the first difficulty, the first proverbial rock in the middle of the road is in front of us; our heart cries out: Do I continue? Or do I change course, move away, correct?
On such occasions we have often hungered for the magic wand which would dissolve the difficulties facing us. Or at least the magic goggles which would show us the smoother route to a better future. But life has no easy options. Rarely does serendipity help like it did Alexander Fleming in the discovery of Penicillin. Fleming went on a holiday with his family. Before leaving, he had stacked all his cultures of staphylococci on a bench in a corner of his laboratory. On returning, Fleming noticed that one culture had developed a fungus, and la viola!! the colonies of staphylococci immediately surrounding the fungus had been destroyed, whereas other staphylococci colonies farther away were normal. The first famous words when he saw that fungus which was later to lead to the discovery of the first antibiotic in human history was “that is funny”. Later he has written: “One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.” Fleming, and humankind, was lucky.
On the other hand, most of us have to struggle like Madame Curie who continued her lab research till she discovered radium and polonium. For all her research and contributions in understanding radioactivity, while the world gave her a Nobel prize. But in this very process she got so much exposed to radiation that she died of aplastic anemia. She continued her efforts till she found answers, but paid with her life! Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, tested thousands and thousands of different materials to create the first incandescent lamp. During his research he found some materials would glow and give light but would not last. Some lasted, but would not glow. After much effort, Edison found tungsten which lasted and glowed. Edison at one time had 1093 patents to his name. The phonograph, stock ticker, Motion picture camera, first electric battery for a car are amongst his inventions. All these inventions were a result of his burning desire to continuously rectify, amend, improve and correct.
Some say that “mistake is the first step to success”. When you are on a path of scientific discovery or innovating to create a more robust, better version of present product, maybe experimentation requires making several ‘mistakes’ on the path and moving ahead. As Orlando Battista has observed: ” An error does not become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it”. Most scientific advances/innovations have a long history of failed efforts. But it is not the mistake that is the first step of success; rather the real fact is that, correction of the mistake is the first step of success! To benefit from the school of experience, a man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them and strong enough to correct them. Mistakes , slips, errors and attempts are the building blocks of success.
The lesson to learn in this journey is – do not continue to water a dead flower!! Sometimes we must have the courage to recognize the dead end; and make a required u-turn to move ahead, albeit on a different route. We must consciously guard against the mindset typified by Nikki Giovanni’s famous quote: “I am so hip even my errors are correct”. This may make sense in a poet’s world, but in the real brick and mortar world we will have to learn to cut our losses when we are faced with brick walls, correct our course and continue on our path. Remember, a man who has committed a mistake and does not correct it is making another mistake. Possibly graver! Remember, never leave a true relationship or a right direction for a few faults or difficulties. Nothing is perfect. Nobody is always correct. In the end, correcting your path, and continuing till you reach success will get you to the Holy Grail of perfection.
Tu sais, La vie continue: You know, Life goes on: vikas