Human Correction and The Pros of Deviation

In all of us there lurks a willingness to step outside the protocol.

Human error is defined as the propensity for certain common mistakes by people; the making of an error as a natural result of being human. It is deviation from intention, expectation or desirability, the definition goes on to state that logically, human actions can fail to achieve their goal in two different ways: the actions can go as planned but the plan can be inadequate or, the plan can be satisfactory, but the performance can be deficient. The definition contains a sort of comforting disclaimer: A mere failure is not an error if there had been no plan to accomplish something in particular.

But how about when the natural result of being human is the key to accomplish that something in particular? It is a tendency that appears to have all the marks of wrong behavior or human error but unlike human error, results in the desired outcome. I cannot find an existing term that fits, we could call this force human correction I suppose, but only if one considers systems of standardization most commonly associated with commerce to be flawed in some way, which I do.

Human correction can be seen in many scenarios, but it is most traceable on a local level, that is to say in exchanges that happen everyday between the shopkeeper and the customer, the bank teller and the account holder, the taxi driver and the gas station attendant. Although some of the exchanges that take place in the name of human correction have a deviant component similar to that of human error, the difference is that these deviations create a positive outcome for the small group directly involved in the exchange. The complication is that this positive outcome only serves at the local level and can often be a small loss at the higher rungs of the exchange such as the corporation or governing body. It is a recalibration technique that we all possess but only make use of occasionally. I want to take this opportunity to provide some examples I have experienced of human correction at work, perhaps these will bring this concept more clearly into view.

There used to be a store in Union Square called Shoe Mania. It was big with one floor catering to all your boot, sneaker, dress shoe needs and then a basement level where the styles that failed to jump off are being sold at a discounted rate. I am not sure if Shoe Mania was a chain, but the people who worked there wore blue collared shirts with Shoemania printed on the breast, and they all wore a sort of ear piece that allowed them to get the shoes requested by New Yorkers and tourists with blisters. It was not a mom and pop store; rent alone at that location must have cost a fortune. So there I was looking around down in the basement, it was summer, I needed some dress shoes for something so naturally I wanted discounted ones.  

The funny thing about Shoemania is that upstairs where the shoes were still full price, there was always an attendant ready to fetch the pair of your dreams, the right size and in all the colors, but in the basement all the boxes were haphazardly stacked with very little rhyme or reason. There was only one attendant in the basement and his job was more a look out than an attendant since there was no special storage place from which to fetch the discounted shoes and the basement was never as crowded as the floor above.   So there I was, looking for my size in some suitable style. I tried on so many things, all too small or too big, too ugly or not ugly enough. After about an hour of failed pairs, I found something that fit all the criteria. The only problem was, I could not find the box that belonged to those shoes and there was no other pair like them and so no way to know their price. I approached the attendant who had been watching the past hour and no doubt knew the time I had invested in finding the perfect shoe. I explained about the shoes with no box. We began to look in the basement together. He informed me that without the box they would be unable to ring me up at the register. We couldn’t find the box. He suggested we find another box, something reasonably priced and without shoes inside, that we could put my perfect pair in and I could bring them upstairs and make my purchase at the register. This suggestion puts us on the path to a human surety. We could find no shoeless box. What happened next is a shining example of human surety in action. Both kneeling, we continued to look. Then, I asked halfway joking, “If there is no box and no way to know how much they cost, could I just, have them?” The attendant looked up, considered my proposition, and agreed under the condition that I wear the shoes out. I thanked him and left Shoe Mania, new shoes on, old sandals in my bag. In the face of a gap in the system, we came to an understanding or a solution that simplified the exchange for all parties directly involved. Mr. Mania wouldn’t be impressed, which is why I maintain human surety is best appreciated on a small-scale local level.

I have an older friend who prides himself on the fact that he doesn’t own anything. He lives in a house, drives a car all the regular possession-holder activities, but nothing that he drives, lives in etc., is in his name. He has fine credit, is not a criminal or an illegal, he explained he simply did not like the notion of having such big items attached to his person. I know about the condition of his credit because some time after denouncing large purchases, he told me that over the years he helped out a few friends when they wanted to attach such big items to their person but could not do so due to financial disarray. He helped by lending them his name to purchase this or that, but only with the condition that he would never have to hear about the purchase again. This is just one example of people doing business amongst each other, getting around the rules of the financial system, it happens all the time, but again, they cannot teach this kind of thing because it comes in so many forms and the whole system would break down if they did.

There was a waiter in New York who worked for a very upscale fine dining banquet hall. The waiter was blind and yet he was the most elegant server of all. In fine dining in America the most common type is open hand service, meaning the waiter should never have his or her arms crossed, the table is always set the same, the food is always served from the left side and the way the dinner is positioned in relation to the diner is always the same. It is common for the lead waiter to have a secondary waiter for extra support, in this case the two men worked together exclusively. What I am trying to point out is that the blind waiter and the secondary waiter were not really serving at all which is what made them such an elegant pair. They had learned a choreographed dance that the blind man was able to perform nightly without error. The ideal fine dining server is the one that sort of disappears, as if the food magically materialized in front of the guest. The specific parameters provided by the man’s lack of sight ensured impeccable timing, efficiency and understanding of the men’s place on the banquet hall floor. If he worked in a diner or any service situation that one would assume was less demanding for the server, it would have been a disaster.

In all the scenarios above, an adherence to the regular protocol would have resulted in complete failure. No shoes for me, no houses or cars for friends, and no job for the elegant server. Human correction as a concept encompasses the capacity we have to approach tasks from all sorts of angles and triumph when it seems external albeit internalized rules and regulations bar the way. My examples are singular events and relatively insignificant but I am sure with just this light prompt you have found some cases of your own. The force of human correction is omnipresent. In my opinion, it is human beings at our best.


When I arrived I admired the cobblestone. The craft continues to be striking, alternating stones instead of painting them. Each stone so unique, placed by hand with such care. A few days later I was moving some things with a dolly. My romance with the cobblestones had a momentary lapse and I dreamed of the paved roads, even Broadway with the train above would do.

If you visit Arizona, go to the Hope Indian Territory and cattle land just outside of Flagstaff. This land is the shrub-steppe, its dry, the plants grow close to the ground and the land is formed into a series of plateaus. It has the shortest growing season in all of the US and is some of the roughest country in the great states. You will undoubtedly marvel at the clarity of the air, and you will notice your far extending line of sight. There is no atmospheric perspective, things appear sharp and in contrast far into the distance.   You will be so engulfed in the wonders of the natural world, of its beauty of its grandiosity, truly sublime. You might wonder how can it be that we made so much stuff atop such splendor? While standing on that plateau you might curse your rubber shoes, your synthetic backpack, your incessant cell phone and the itchy tag in your T-shirt. Maybe you’ll think how we ruined such purity with power lines stretching all the way to Phoenix and with highways perpetually clogged snaking the landscape.   Perhaps you’ll feel a sort of nostalgic melancholy because you know just over that rocky hill there is a SHELL gas station with a McDonalds attached.

In school they taught the sweetly redacted version of the history of the American West: that families came, following “the lone trappers”, in search of a better life. The new people traveled the harsh land via wagon long before the arrival of the gas station on the edge of Flagstaff. They made way across the beautiful landscape, not knowing the implications of such clear skies and such irregular plateau landmasses. If you stand atop a high plateau today and you will see far far into the distance and you will find it magnificent and maybe even moving. Those early invaders saw the same and this clear view would come to be their demise. Unable to detect the valleys between the raised flatlands and inexperienced with such a vast line of sight they assumed the next suitable place to stop was only a few miles away when in fact it was days away.   Many of these covered wagons never made it to the next plateau. The people died in the valley, I think subconsciously wishing there was a Shell Station with a McDonald’s attached just beyond the rocky hill.

We love our unnatural world, our inventions our conveniences. We need them. We marvel at the absolute power of the natural world and these days we do it with complete caution and never without at least the knowledge of the closest Shell Station with the McDonald’s attached.   We have learned our lesson time and time again.

I look for instances where the two processes meet. When our invented world crosses with the bigger system to which we belong but so often try to own. When a thing goes from domestic to feral, from the safety and privacy of our own homes to the unpredictable public city street.

When it transitions from cutting edge to dated, from required to extra, from the focus of all attention to being completely overlooked. When some material or object has been completely used up, worn out, disregarded, tossed aside by us and then becomes subject to everything else.   These items, the evidence of our production, seem to cry out to Mother Nature, exclaiming that we have hacked the system and made our own little process of life and death!

I like the side effects. I am attracted to the things we need, that we must have but then once attained, almost immediately become a burden, and so starts the task of getting rid of them.

I find this compulsion of human beings strange but not unnatural. I think our constant activity of filling up the place and then cleaning it up again and again kowtows to the natural world. Showing reverence while also admitting our short comings, announcing loudly that we would have most certainly died in the valley but instead we can stop at the Shell with the McDonald’s attached and eat fries while marveling at the clear view from the top of the plateau.

Is it damage or is it character?

The Grand Canyon

The craters in the moon

The bullet holes on the side of union station in Kansas City,

The corner of Victor Horta’s living room where the wood has been rotten away

The holes in my shoes

The chip in your tooth

The open space on the top of the Pantheon

The dent in the black stone of Mecca

The dips in heavily used subway benches y

The rip in your favorite sheets