Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

What Not to Say: Mark Vernon Explains Why Putting Your Foot in It Is a Vital Aspect of Being Human

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

What Not to Say: Mark Vernon Explains Why Putting Your Foot in It Is a Vital Aspect of Being Human

Article excerpt

Everyone has them. "I didn't know what to say!" Times when you are silenced--overwhelmed with embarrassment, gobsmacked, dumbstruck--because someone confronts you with a situation, and you have no idea how to respond.

Little wonder people would rather say anything than ask someone with a terminal disease about it. They prefer to avoid talk about politics, and "don't do God". Or--in a new chapter in the history of impossible social predicaments--they click "Confirm" rather than "Ignore" when someone they barely know asks them to be a friend on Facebook. After all, being handed a spade to keep digging is possibly even worse than being given a rope to hang yourself. If you hang, you die; if you dig, you live to recall the hideous moment--and die a little death each time you do.

So it may come as something of a surprise to learn that philosophers have argued that such moments are some of the most valuable in life.

"To err is human," the Latin adage goes--implying that mistakes are humanising. Why? Partly because everybody makes them and so everybody should be charitable about them: it will be you some time soon. And, more interestingly, because embarrassing impasses are actually moments of opportunity when you can learn something new. The shock of such moments can pierce otherwise impenetrable egos. As Sigmund Freud realised, in pondering the power of free association, it is what you mean not to say that is in fact most revealing of yourself. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.