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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The difference between life and sums

Just caught a bit of a Panorama about Ireland's economic problems. The banks, they say, "got it wrong". The government also "got it wrong". Thousands of citizens also "got it wrong" when they bought houses that they couldn't afford even when they had jobs. "Got it wrong" seems such an inadequate expression when you're trying to describe human behaviour in general and human folly in particular. I can see how a child might have "got it wrong" when failing to carry ten in a simple sum. But "got it wrong" seems to suggest that somewhere is a Big Book Of Human Affairs which you can consult for the right and the wrong answers to every question in the adult world.

"Got it wrong" seems to have grown in popularity in the last ten years. It's particularly popular with media commentators who apply it to everything from Gordon Brown's tax plans to a football team playing three at the back. What they fail to take into account is that in most cases where people have "got it wrong" they've been aware of the possibility that they might have "got it wrong" but were hoping that over time events would work out in such a way as to make it appear that they had actually "got it right". They were guilty of hoping for the best, which is what most of us do every morning. Let's hope all the media organisations that those commentators work for don't turn out to have "got it wrong" themselves.