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Scott M. Paton

To Err Is Human; to Forgive, Divine

Lighten up, people!



Two columns ago (“It’s About Leadership Stupid”) I wrote the following: “I want a president who understands the biblical adage that if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he will eat for a lifetime.” In what may have been one of the greatest journalistic mishaps in recorded history, I incorrectly attributed the Holy Bible as the source of the “teach a man to fish” analogy. Oh, the horror!

As many of you pointed out, that quote is not from the Bible. It is, of course, a Chinese proverb. It is proof that I, your humble columnist, am indeed merely human.

It’s not surprising that I made a mistake; as I just said, I am merely a human being who is running a business and trying to keep up with two-year-old twins, a six-year old son, and a very tired wife. (I know; it’s no excuse for sloppy writing.) It’s also not surprising that the good editors at Quality Digest didn’t catch my mistake since I tend to get my column to them at the last possible moment, leaving little time for in-depth fact-checking.

Do my quality processes need improvement? Based on the customer input I received, yes. Do Quality Digest’s? Yep. I am, after all, a supplier, and they are responsible for the quality of outsourced material.

Given all of that, I have to admit that I was taken aback by the tone of many of the letters I received. It’s not as if I was reporting on a life-or-death issue. My simple mistake caused a few of you great consternation. You’d think I’d set out to destroy organized religion or that I had ripped the Bible in half on national television.

I’m a big boy, and I can take the criticism. I am sharing this with you because it illustrates how picky some quality folks can be. Of course, being nitpicky is a good attribute for someone in quality (as it is for editors and writers), but there is a fine line between finding fault and being rude.

I’m sure you’ve noticed a trend, particularly with the rise of e-mail, reflecting how easy it is for people to fire off a rude message without really thinking about how their message will be received. Combine this with some people’s natural inclination to criticize, and it gets ugly.

This is particularly bothersome for the quality profession. Unfortunately, some people already view quality as an annoyance, so adding a nitpicky personality and lack of manners only makes matters worse.

Now, don’t get me wrong--the overwhelming majority of people in the quality profession are decent, hardworking, respectful people. But there are always a few bad apples in any group.

In my experience, the rottenest of the apples tend to be found among auditors. Again, don’t get me wrong; the majority of auditors are decent, hardworking, respectful people whose work is often unappreciated. But you know the auditor type I am referring to: the obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive, anti-social auditor--truly an object of terror. They often start out as sickly sweet and quickly turn to condescending and combative.

It’s also counterproductive to have nitpickers expend a great deal of time and energy dealing with minor issues while big issues go unresolved. It’s the old can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees analogy. (No, I don’t know who first uttered that quote.)

So, to all of you nitpickers out there, I offer a few quotes, with proper attribution, of course:

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” ( An Essay on Criticism , by Alexander Pope)

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, King James version of the Bible)

“Turn the other cheek.” (OK, the actual quote is, “But I say unto you, ‘That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’” (Matthew 5:39, King James version of the Bible)

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (Again, the actual quote is, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7, King James version of the Bible)

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This is the so-called Golden Rule, and variations of it appear in almost all world religions. Here are a few variations:

-- Christianity: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31, King James version of the Bible)

-- Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” (Analects 15:23)

-- Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5:1517)

-- Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” (No. 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths”)


Do your nitpicky co-workers drive you crazy? Do you have suggestions on how to deal with these folks? Post your thoughts online at www.qualitycurmudgeon.com.

About the author
Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest’s editor at large.