I yearn for the freedom to be wrong, I mean to seriously screw up – not without accountability – but without being condemned to the Limbic Highjacking Hell of feeling perpetually constricted, small, embarrassed, ashamed, demeaned, dispirited and helpless. That’s a kind of freedom that is truly liberating to the soul and the creative spirit. It also provides a lot of breathing room to get things right. Without the oppressive dread of getting something wrong, I can direct my energy and attention toward getting them right.
Our Human Right to Be Wrong
Where does such internal ease and freedom spring from? Well, if my parents didn’t provide it for me, and if I can’t provide it for myself, then I have to get help from smart people I love and respect granting it to me. I think the Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience might be at play here: it takes a more organized brain to help organize and calm my brain, mind, body, heart and soul when I screw up. In that organization and calm often emerges the possibility of self-forgiveness, amends-making and restorative justice. The hands-down best way I know for that calming and ordering to happen is … by being deeply and lovingly listened to (Coincidentally enough, a fresh batch of my newly revised book, Right Listening is now available, ripe from the printer… :-)).
Two Wrongs Righted, Make a Right
There’s a difference between being wrong and doing wrong, of course. Both are potentially bad for our neurology. If I was to make a list of all the unrighted wrongs I have perpetrated throughout my life, it would be a very, very long one, indeed. I’ll offer up only two right here for illustration purposes … and public confession. And to offer anecdotal evidence for how the wrongs we commit ultimately do damage our own brains!
At age 19 I met a guy on the job a few years older than me and we immediately hit it off. At some point we agreed to surreptitiously start our own manufacturing company selling spare airplane parts to the government. We bought stolen blueprints so we could bid in direct competition with Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed and undercut their prices substantially. When we couldn’t buy a blueprint on the Black Market, we’d simply buy the airplane part itself, measure it, draw up our own blueprints and affix the large airplane company’s logo to the print. We rationalized this sleazy behavior by telling ourselves we were saving the taxpayer gobs of money.
It wasn’t too long before I began dreading going to work. On days when government inspectors were slated to show up to inspect our sham creations, I would suffer excruciating headaches. I also developed a painful skin infection on my hands, while simultaneously developing a fear of flying, even though, ironically enough, I was taking flying lessons.
One day, while taking off from Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, I had the Cessna 182 at too steep an incline so the Stall Warning sounded. I immediately put the nose down, but too fast and too hard. My instructor blanched when we felt the plane’s wheels graze the tops of the power lines stretching across the road out beyond the end of the runway. A few inches lower and we would have taken out the lines and smashed into the ground at 75 miles an hour. To this day I feel there’s a direct connection with the wrong things I was doing in my day job.
Also, at around age 19 I took a home-study locksmithing course (19 was a very wrong year for me). I was a very motivated and astute learner. Within a few weeks I could deftly use a pick and a turning wrench and open many pin tumbler locks and most all cheap, gated Master padlocks. Armed with this skill, a friend and I quickly became proficient thieves, specializing in one area: liquor store storage rooms located in and around the Hollywood area. In the middle of the night we would drive down back alleys to pre-scouted padlocked storerooms out in back of the stores. I would pick the locks and we’d load a few cases of beer and whiskey into the car, close the place back up and be gone in less than five minutes. We were never caught, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the transgressions were never even discovered.
But like my day job, the night thefts took a toll. I found myself becoming more and more irritable and depressed (I didn’t even drink what we stole), and lost for some kind of clear direction. During that period I also got into three street accidents, once driving my Triumph Bonneville motorcycle off a cliff into Latigo Canyon with my partner in crime riding on the back. And as with the near airplane accident, I think there’s a direct connection between the accidents and my illegal “night work.” I suspect it’s also why many criminals screw up and get caught, despots and tyrants eventually come to a bad end, and why spiritual guidance like the Ten Commandments are actually optimal neural directives: life’s default orientation is towards growth, goodness and integration. As Diana Fosha writes in The Healing Power of Emotion, we are all wired for transformation. Go against those transformative strivings at your own neurological peril.