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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Fixing little mistakes

Politicians and citizens alike should take up the habit

Fixing little mistakes

(Krieg Barrie)

I’ve always treasured the advice of a friend who was not only a skilled airplane pilot but who was also occasionally assigned by the Federal Aviation Administration to report back on safety practices at various airports.

“The essence of safe flying,” my friend told me several times, “is constantly to think about the errors you just made—and then to compensate for those mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Those who nurture the habit of noting and then correcting those little mistakes they’ve just made live to perfect their skills. Those who regularly ignore their errors will sooner or later pay for their negligence—maybe even with their lives.”

I’ve stressed this point here before. But now, with the current arrival in Washington, D.C., of hundreds of members of the new Trump government, I hope they will apply to their varied tasks the advice of my pilot friend. Indeed, the world at large needs a whole lot more people who live their lives and live out their vocations like good airplane pilots. Without becoming gloomy and altogether introspective, we need a population of people who aren’t afraid to look straight in the face of whatever we’ve just done and say: “That was wrong, and it needs correcting. Let’s do it right this time.”

The pilot’s wisdom isn’t just for individuals reflecting on their own personal work and records. It’s also for all of us in our various corporate settings. It’s for unimaginably huge government departments stuck in their bureaucratic ways and wedded to their elephantine budgets.

The world at large needs a whole lot more people who live their lives and live out their vocations like good airplane pilots.

But we haven’t had such managers in the nation’s capital in a lifetime and more. I think there are three major reasons.

First, we don’t really even believe in the seriousness of error anymore. When you do away with ultimate values, and are no longer confident there really are such things as right and wrong, how do you determine that anything is wrong? Do away with ultimate standards, and you’ve lost your yardstick and your ability to say that something’s substandard. In a land where nobody ever gets measured, there are no short people.

Second, when we do come around to admitting there are such things as real moral standards, we have tended more and more to relativize the few standards that are left. We find ourselves resorting to the old childhood excuse, “He did it first.” The Apostle Paul described us in that role when he said, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

Wise or not, we keep doing it. Instead of dealing honestly with our mistaken behavior, we hitch up our pants, note that we’re probably not that much worse than anybody else in town, and charge on.

A third reason for our failure to deal realistically with the wrongs we’ve just committed is that in almost every area of life we’ve invented instant solutions allowing us to pretend there was no problem in the first place. So we are led to imagine that, even with reference to moral problems, we have the prerogative just to snap our fingers and wish away our wrongs. But in real life, it’s not very often that easy.

Some of the most successful businesses going today are built on human failure in small settings. FedEx became wealthy because so many of us are procrastinators. Bank of America can charge inordinate fees when we subtract wrongly in our checkbooks and overdraw our accounts. Microsoft’s software delights in helping you glide past the spelling or grammatical error you just made. Did you catch yourself in a goof? Never mind. A ready solution is close at hand. If it’s small, you can backspace. If it’s big, just delete the whole document. Nobody else needs to know.

But whatever the problem—personal, marital, vocational, church-related, national, or otherwise—we shirk our duty when we fail to note honestly the error we’ve made, set a fresh and accurate course, and beg God to help us walk faithfully in that new path. 

And you might pray also that Washington, and your own statehouse, be filled with people following the same pattern of life.


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  • MamaC
    Posted: Tue, 01/17/2017 10:40 pm

    I applaud WORLD for correcting little mistakes (spelling, grammar, and content) when readers point them out, but it would be nice if there were a way to call it to the web editor's attention with less public attention.

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Wed, 01/18/2017 08:02 am

    We don't mind comments that point out our mistakes, but if you'd like to write to us directly, you can at

  • MamaC
    Posted: Wed, 01/18/2017 09:22 am

    Thank you!

  • Koni in WA
    Posted: Wed, 01/18/2017 05:38 pm

    I once corrected a gramatical error the only way I knew how - on the forum.  I'm glad to now learn that there is another avenue to reach you about editorial oversights.  My reasoning for pointing out an error isn't to show off how smart I am; but I hope to point out little things that may have been missed to help World's presentation shine as brightly as the content of their articles.

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Wed, 01/18/2017 07:05 pm

    Thanks for this good reminder to humbly recognize our faults and take action to correct them as we move forward.  It can be a very refreshing thing, on the personal level as well as when we see it in the public domain. 

    It is made that much easier and life-bringing as we remember that we have a God who is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness when we humbly confess those sins.

  •  FLYING GOAT's picture
    Posted: Tue, 01/31/2017 08:33 am

    Mr. Joel, being a retired aviator your articile was interesting as it was centered around how folks should learn lessons of life. Useing pilots as an example, a profession that can not tolerate mistakes.  Our path to being a better pilot usually started with, " I'll never do that again!"

    Educators tell us how difficult it is to teach to a person that had already filled their head with falsehoods and believed on them. Better to encounter a virgin brain to flood with truth, than the tons of effort needed to deprogram. Lacking a delete key we sometime stumble along making worng assumptions over and over.Until the truth angel pays you a long, loving visit..