Someone recently told me that scientists are too hard on themselves. They beat themselves up about every minute detail and are always looking over their shoulders, waiting for someone from some obscure corner of the world to trash their work. And then, they spend eternity wallowing in self-pity and self-loathing. But, if this was the case, I argued, no one would ever come forward with their findings. No one would have the guts to put themselves out there, for public scrutiny. This person then laughed and said that it was all the more reason for scientists to be extra hard on themselves.

This is probably true for any field out there. If you are creating or venturing into something new, or even trying to keep an old vocation relevant, you need to go the extra mile to make sure that every base is covered. And in that process, you sometimes end up missing out on a small but significant detail. And before you know it, the world does. They descend upon you like hungry vultures, ready to shred your integrity and self-confidence into pieces. And if this has happened one too many times to you, then a strange sense of paranoia takes over and you second guess every single thing you ever do.

So, what is it about making mistakes that is so shameful? Why is it so difficult for someone to admit that they have made an error? To err is human, after all. What is a bigger evidence of our humanity, or humaneness rather, than making terrible, embarrassing, silly mistakes? Why can’t we wear these mistakes as badges of honour rather than trying hard to rub it off like a stain tainting our pristine attire?

Scientist, or not, it is time we went soft on ourselves. It is time to cut loose all the elastic bands tugging at our brains from different places of insecurity and set our minds free. Step into the unknown without fear of sinking or floating. Even if you end up sinking, what you’re stepping into may not be as deep or treacherous as you had built up in your head. Being knee-deep in your own mistake is better than being neck-deep in insecurities.

So herein, I propose the following postulates of The Hard and Soft Principle:

  • Re-reading an email draft more than two times before sending is henceforth deemed to be unnecessary. The alphabets are not going to jumble themselves up Taare Zameen Par-style (the movie) so your second draft is going to be just as good as your eleventh draft.
  • While speaking in front of a larger audience, if a word gets mispronounced by you and you hear a few sniggers immediately afterwards, control the urge to repeat the same sentence with the right pronunciation. There’s no need for redemption. What’s done is done. You would have sniggered too, if you’re being honest with yourself.  
  • If you’ve uploaded a video/audio/image/blog post/paper/pen/some-important-part-of-yourself online and you get negative, or worse, no feedback, don’t take it down. The internet has the potential to absorb all failures. And someday, like fine wine, your creation might actually have some value (if not to the rest of the world, to you at least). You wouldn’t want to rule out that possibility because of a momentary disappointment, would you?
  • When you see something that, in your opinion, is not done the right way, or you have a better way of doing it, draft a mail immediately. Keep drafting it until you feel that it sounds as soft and yet hard-hitting as possible (will require multiple attempts). Now memorise the words in that mail and go to said person and convey your criticism. It is easy to criticize, but difficult to criticize constructively (and effectively).
  • If you have broken something expensive (and I mean very, very expensive, something that even fifty years of your labour cannot repay), do not look for the next flight out of the country. Also, do not draft a mail to convey your blunder. There are some mistakes you cannot hide from. You can only own up to them and hope that the person in-charge is a follower of The Hard and Soft Principle as well.

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