Kenneth Libbrecht is a professor of physics at Caltech – one of the “headiest” schools in the world. Recently, I read an article about Dr. Libbrecht’s area of study – snowflakes. Yep, the essential ingredient for a white Christmas! Apparently, the six-sided symmetrical crystals we often see in photos are a rarity. Moreover, the physics of how they grow is not well understood.
What has been known since the mid-1930s is this: snowflakes are formed between the temperatures of 25˚F to 32˚F (freezing); from a temperature of 23˚F to 25˚F snow needles are created; at 22˚F frozen columns appear; and at -32˚F it stops snowing. But here is what prompted my writing–scientists, including Dr. Libbrecht, don’t know why any of this occurs. It seems that when it comes to the molecular dynamics of ice crystals, the scientific community is pretty much clueless.
What a healthy perspective that is–great minds admitting after decades of study that they don’t have an answer. No making something up, no crisis-management team called in from the four corners of the map, no spin–there it is!
The scientists’ admission provides a wonderful kernel of an idea for a valuable New Year’s resolution. First, come to accept, whether at work or in private endeavors, that we can’t always have the answers. Deposit in our cerebral trash bin the societal imperative that a lack of knowledge on most any subject implies some level and type of incompetence.
Rather, come to accept that saying “I don’t know,” or “I need to find that out for you” puts you among the self-confident people of the earth, those candid and wise people who accept the limitations of their mind’s competence. Isn’t that better than fabricating some lame answer, anything to keep folks from piercing our strongly self-defended armor of infallibility? That sharp defensiveness is, rather, what is lame.
Second, take the resolution one step farther–and this is a really tough assignment– recognize and embrace the close cousin of admitting you don’t have all the answers: learn the remarkable practice of admitting a mistake. I say remarkable since admitting a mistake is for some of us as rare as discovering gold in the back yard. Through years of practice—uh, call that make-believe, we become constitutionally incapable of saying “I made a mistake.”
Surely you remember Fonzie staring in a mirror as his windpipe clamped down on uttering his mistakes. He was physically unable to tell that truth about himself. It seemed funny, didn’t it, but remember—it got laughs because it wasn’t unusual. We saw ourselves in Fonzie!
After you yourself look in the mirror, look back at the year just ending and inventory the rich and famous who fell from grace. I’ll bet you a cold soda that the majority of the fallen could have undone the publicity feeding-frenzy that followed upon their transgressions by simply admitting to their mistakes. As we witnessed in the media during 2011, each denial of wrongdoing they made wove tighter a day-glo orange cloak of culpability around them. Until they had no space at all to maneuver, much less breathe the clear, cool piney air of truth—simple, sincere truth. Sincere—that above all.
My friends, can any observer of our words and deeds consider any one of us perfect? Should an individual’s malfeasance come as a surprise to any one of us? The Lord may have created us in His or Her image, but warranted no testament that we are perfect. Thus, my third point: accepting that we are not perfect, and knowing not to overload our emotional circuitry with impossible standards and expectations of perfection, nay, omniscience, let’s take the following as our New Year’s resolution in chief:
I will have mercy on myself in all I say, do, and expect from myself and from others. And when I make a mistake, that habit of mercy will lead me to admit sincerely my mistake as soon as possible. That’s the best use of “asap”!