Blunders Aren't So Bad When 'Oops' Becomes an Opportunity

There's no doubt about it. All of us have made a number of mistakes. But it has also been said that half the things that go wrong turn out right. The poet Robert Hillyer once remarked that he knew a college student who mistakingly wandered into the wrong classroom and became so interested in the subject that he continued it and made it his lifetime career.

Even Emily Post, whose books on social graces are still used for reference, wasn't without her share of blunders. One that she wrote about happened at a prestigious international dinner of the Gourmet Society. Gesturing with her hand while conversing with the person sitting next to her, she knocked a large bowl of syrupy preserves being offered by a waiter.

As the syrup spread over the white tablecloth, the society's president rose to his feet and, with twinkling eyes, said, ''Ladies and gentlemen, I have an extraordinary announcement to make. Our guest, Emily Post, noted authority on etiquette, has spilled preserves on the tablecloth!'' Then, bowing in her direction, he led the applause, turning her mishap into a contribution toward the success of the evening.

Now, most of us know better than to repeat the same mistake twice. For as Cicero put it, ''To stumble twice against the same stone is a proverbial disgrace.''

There are times, however, when even double blunders can be put to good use. A professor friend of mine at a small college in West Texas once drove his car to Dallas where he'd been invited to deliver a lecture.

His speech made, he caught a plane home, only to remember at his doorstep that he'd left his car in Dallas. He promptly proceeded to the bus station and purchased a round-trip ticket to Dallas! The professor invariably told this story in his classroom on those occasions when attention lagged. It never failed to work - not only bringing a chuckle but an attentive class.

There are times when a sense of humor is all that is needed to turn a mistake around. A neighbor of ours is a commercial flier for a well-known airline. On a trip to New Mexico by car, he made the mistake of speeding and was stopped by a highway patrolman.

''OK, fellah,'' the patrolman said to him, ''Let's see your pilot's license.''

Our friend hesitated a moment, then decided to bring it forth.

The patrolman stared, laughed, and said, ''Well, I guess I asked for that,'' and with a friendly warning, allowed him to continue on his way.

In a speech at Mansion House, Edward Phelps, a former United States ambassador to Great Britain, said, ''The person who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.''

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