How often are you on the verge of making a usual mistake?


Today is May 2 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you on the verge of making a usual mistake?” The ‘usual mistake’ reference for today’s reflection stems from Walt Whitman’s 1855 poem entitled "Song of Myself” where he wrote:


Give me a little time beyond my cuff’d head, slumbers, dreams, gaping,

I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake.

That I could forget the mockers and insults!

That I could forget the trickling tears and the blows of the bludgeons and hammers!

That I could look with a separate look on my own crucifixion and bloody crowning.


In this section of the poem Whitman defines the ‘usual mistake’ as the error of mistaking the mockery and insults and tears and blows as the essential meaning of life. As you leverage your mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality, you will most likely be mocked, insulted, and ridiculed. Today’s reflection challenges you to look at how often you allow the bludgeons of others to slow, stop, or derail your ability to navigate the chaos. Another way of thinking about today’s post is to ask the question ‘how often do I worry about what others think?’


In his November 11, 2021 "No One Cares!" article published in The Atlantic, Arthur C. Brooks expanded on this usual mistake and concluded "our fears about what other people think of us are overblown and rarely worth fretting over." Brooks discusses how our overconcern for other people’s opinions of us is natural but that does not mean that it is inevitable. He provides three suggestions for those who are willing to put in the work and leverage their mind, body, and spirit to avoid the usual mistake of caring what others think.


First, Brooks recommends that readers remind themselves that no one cares. This could be interpreted as harsh advice but it is indeed worthy of consideration. Most people are so caught up in their life situation that they are not even thinking about you; although you may think you are the only person on their mind. That is simply not the case. Research indicates that people generally overestimate how much others think about them. Brooks suggested that “next time you feel self-conscious, notice that you are thinking about yourself. You can safely assume that everyone around you is doing more or less the same.”


The second strategy Brooks recommends people consider using to avoid making the usual mistake of worry about what others think is to rebel against your shame. He believes that confronting your shame directly and bringing it out into the open can help you better manage your excessive interest in others’ opinions. If you acknowledge that which you are ashamed of, does it really matter what others have to say about you? Finally, Brooks asked readers to stop judging others. “To judge others is to acknowledge a belief that people can, in fact, legitimately judge one another; thus, it is an implicit acceptance of others’ judgment of you.” He concluded his article with a contemporary twist on the ancient quote by Lao Tzu who wrote, “Care about people’s approval / and you will be their prisoner” and proclaimed, “Disregard what others think and the prison door will swing open.” Today’s Navigate the Chaos reflection serves as a good reminder that you have the ability to leverage your mind, body, and spirit at any moment should you choose to do so. As Brooks observed “If you are stuck in the prison of shame and judgment, remember that you hold the key to your own freedom.”


This letting go of what others think is absolutely critical for artists. In a 2013 interview Foo Fighters front man and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl railed against reality television shows like American Idol and The Voice and provided this scathing comment: "When I think about kids watching American Idol or The Voice they think, 'Oh, okay, that's how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight hours with 800 people at a convention centre and then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it's not fucking good enough.' Can you imagine? It's destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they'll suck, too. And then they'll start playing and they'll have the best time they've ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they'll become Nirvana. Because that's exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don't need a fucking computer or the Internet or The Voice or American Idol.”

  • How often do you find yourself on the verge of the usual mistake?

  • How often do you remind yourself that ‘no one cares?’

  • How often do you rebel against your shame?

  • How often do you find yourself judging others?

  • How often do you tell yourself that you hold the power over your ability to disregard what others think of you?