This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 9, 2011 - laugh when you fall

On that glorious morning, many groups of true believers gathered in many places, confident that the end of the world was at hand.

How many people? Estimates vary between 25,000 all the way up to over a million.

They came from all over the world, and included people from many Christian denominations.

There had been an earlier prediction, but the prophet recalculated, and confidently advanced another date. This time would be different.

It's important to understand this truth: People believed him. Often, the belief was deep, fervent, and utterly sincere. Some followers had already sold or simply abandoned all their belongings.

And what happened?

It's hard to soften this. The true believers were wrong.

Incidentally, I am not talking about Harold Camping's prediction of the Rapture, due, according to HIS second calculations, to take place on May 21, 2011. Although that didn't happen either.

I'm talking about the "Millerites," the followers of William Miller, who predicted that the second coming of Christ would happen precisely on October 22, 1844.

Why do so many of us have a yearning to know that this is It, that the end is nigh, that now we'll get what's coming to us, good and bad alike?

I don't know. But I do know that in both cases there was a next morning.

How did the faithful respond?

According to author Kathryn Schulz in her fascinating book "Being Wrong," people have pretty consistent responses to being caught out in error.

At one end is total denial. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there was no mistake. Indeed, many Millerites asserted that Christ had indeed arrived, but not physically. Rather, he had entered the hearts of his followers.

Advantage: it's hard to prove that that didn't happen. Disadvantage: there's not a lot of proof that it did.

Others responded with a partial denial. OK, the specific date wasn't right. But it was almost right. The Second Coming was ... delayed.

Out of the Millerites came the Seventh Day Adventists. There's also a connection to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Even faith adapts.

At the far end of the continuum some people concluded that they had made not just one mistake, but lots of them. Some Millerites gave up organized religion; others abandoned the very idea of God and the Bible.

Somewhere in the middle, Schulz said, there's the usual "downplaying, hedging, backpedaling, justifying, or otherwise minimizing the scope of our mistakes."

We just hate to be wrong. Adults do, anyhow.

But here's the interesting thing. When you look back on the time of greatest human growth, the time when we are consummate learning machines, we are wrong almost all the time.

You don't think so? Have you ever watched a pre-toddler learning to walk? Stand. Fall. Step. Fall. Turn around. Fall. Reach for something. Fall. Try to speak. Get it wrong. Try to exercise control over basic bodily functions. Fail.

Yet children learn. with astonishing speed. They are "right" more and more often.

And how do we explain this? Children, making one mistake after another, laugh way more than adults. I've seen some studies asserting that adults laugh 15 times a day, but children laugh up to 300 times.

And that's another response to getting things wrong. Laughter.

When you laugh, it doesn't mean that you're cruel, or judgmental, or that you find everyone else stupid.

It just means that the world is funny, and that it's a miracle that anything ever works the way you think it will.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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