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The Upside of Failure

I’ve already mentioned on my previous post about my favorite blogger Jonah Lehrer. See previous post here. 

His new book "Imagine" has become controversial as it was recalled by his publisher due to allegations of plagiarism. 

According to reports, Lehrer has attributed some fictitious quotes to the ever famous Bob Dylan.  Further, he has published in his New Yorker blog previous works, word for word, found on his books and former blogs without revealing that it has been published elsewhere.  An act some might call “self plagiarism”.

At first, Lehrer denied the allegations. 

But as with any other story, truth came out and he was forced to admit his fabrications.

Now I know that a lot of people are sensitive on the issues of intellectual property and plagiarism.  I for one, believe that we should give credit where credit is due.  And as educated individuals, should not steal each other’s idea.  See related post here and here.

And I do not, in anyway excuse him from his wrongdoings.

But what I admire about Lehrer was that when he decided to admit and own up to his mistakes, he committed to it. And he made the resolution to clean up his act and get better.

And that is the gist of this post – acceptance and redemption. 

To quote from his apology spoken during a Knight Foundation Seminar:
I’ve been asked to give a talk about decision-making. I’m going to focus today on bad decisions, on the causes and repercussions of failure. The failure I’ll be talking about is my own.

… I am convinced that unless I talk openly about what I’ve learned so far – unless I hold myself accountable in public – then the lessons will not last. I will lose the only consolation of my failure, which is the promise that I will not fail like this again. That I might, one day, find a way to fail better.

In those lines he describes how one can learn from one’s mistake and use it to educate others. 

On the ability to admit one’s failure and the willingness to deal with it through the help of others, Lehrer says:
My failures were my fault alone. But I’ve come to believe that, if I’m going to regain some semblance of self-respect, then I need the help of others. I need my critics to tell me what I’ve gotten wrong, if only so that I can show myself I’m able to listen. That is the test that matters – not the absence of error, but a willingness to deal with it.

And on decision making:

There is no secret to good decision-making. There is only the obvious truth: We either confront our mistakes and gain a little wisdom, or we don’t and remain a fool.
And what I found most profound was this statement:

I realized that all of my explanations changed nothing. They cannot undo what I've done, not even a little. A confession is not a solution. It does not restore trust. Not the trust of others and not the trust of myself.

You may read the whole apology letter here.

He made mistakes.  A mistake that cost him his job, career and reputation.  A mistake that ruined his future and would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Consequences he admited, he rightly deserved.

And as a writer, its hard to live that one down and rise from it.

But for Lehrer, as with all of us, failure is part of life, but the trick is to learn and find a way to "fail better".

Note:  Image courtesy of and


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