A journalist friend of mine posted the following link on Facebook (http://www.theguardian.com/news/oliver-burkeman-s-blog/2014/may/21/everyone-is-totally-just-winging-it) which describes the human tendency to make mistakes and concludes that none of us really know what we are doing. I disagree with the author because I believe if we assume that all of us are “winging it,” we will reach the damaging conclusion that knowledge, experience, and competence don’t matter.
My view is that all of us make mistakes, have wrong assumptions, and sometimes act irrationally. Despite these weaknesses, many of our ancestors had skills and abilities that helped move humanity from short lives devoted almost entirely to subsistence to more rewarding ways of living. I would go a step further and claim that there are more capable people in the world today than there has ever been. We are too frequently reminded of the things we don’t know or can’t do, while infrequently taking stock of the many things we can.
I do not see myself as much more accomplished than anyone else, but I can come up with a long list of skills and tasks that constitute more than winging it. I know a lot about city government, for example; but I certainly don’t know everything, and there are many variables I can’t control. Part of successfully negotiating life or a career is the ability to respond to changing or unforeseen circumstances. If that is winging it, then I am guilty as charged and happily so.
My point was reinforced during the process of writing this column when I had to meet an electrician at my house to fix an outlet that no longer worked. I purchased a new outlet when the old one failed and attempted to install it myself. I was very careful with the wiring, even going so far as to mark each of the six wires with colored electrical tape to make sure I was connecting them to the right receptors on the new outlet. Despite my best efforts, the new outlet didn’t work. The young electrician who came to my house had it fixed within ten minutes and consoled me with the observation that he had gone to school for a long time to learn his trade. In short, I was winging it and he wasn’t.
Human beings have remarkable capabilities, and we see evidence of it nearly every conscious moment. The writer who opined that everyone is winging it all the time delivered his message to a worldwide audience through an electronic medium that most of us never even imagined 30 years ago. If we believed his hypothesis and acted accordingly, we would never have had the means to receive his message. I think we need to believe in things, and I particularly believe that we need to believe in each other. No one among us is always right or always in control, but most of us do many important things well every single day.