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 (Courtesy of Richard Levitt)

Nobody likes being wrong, but Richard Levitt says that sometimes it’s the only way to bet on the path of getting it right.

I’m not proud of this, but I figure it’s worth saying: I hate being wrong.

Maybe not about little stuff, like parking too far from the curb or not getting all the trash out in time for pickup.

But when it comes to other stuff, sometimes the fear of doing the wrong thing made it hard to do anything. Sometimes it was paralyzing.

I found ways to avoid action rather than facing the possibility of doing it wrong.


My best trick was research. I could research stuff like fireplace inserts, vacation destinations, or office organization. It might look like I’m actively moving forward without ever having to buy the insert, book a hotel, or actually tidy my office.

By the way, the word for that is procrastination. As a writer, it’s an epic fail, and as a professional writer, a terrible practice.

Of course, I figured out how to push myself. But getting over the fear of being wrong didn’t come easily.

My breakthrough happened during a martial arts class in Japan.

During class the teacher — Sensei — would prowl around the mat, watching the students train. Suddenly he’d shout “dah-may!” and stop the class.

“Dame” in Japanese means “wrong” or “no good.” He’d point out the student doing something wrong and make them demonstrate how wrong they were doing it. Then he’d elaborate on their wrongness, meticulously correct their technique, then — finally — let class continue.

I got my first — of many — “dames” and was mortified. But after class one night, a senior student took me aside and explained:

“Dame” — in this context — isn’t a bad thing. It means Sensei was paying attention and noticed how hard I was training. More, that the whole class needed the pointer and he was just using me as an example.

That you have to do it wrong a bunch of times before you get it right. You have to try, and keep trying.

And there it is. The real dame isn’t doing anything wrong. It’s not doing anything at all.

With a Perspective, this is Richard Levitt.

Richard Levitt is an East Bay writer who practices and teaches martial arts, yoga and creative problem solving.