“Right to be Forgotten”

On the merits of allowing ourselves the space to commit good-faith mistakes.

The type of person whom I tend to admire most is the one who never stops learning. Specifically, I’m drawn to those who’re always on the lookout for a more productive way forward in life, and are never afraid to reset their habits in the name of progress.

Though that short description may appear to imply that everyone should aspire to live like this, it’s crucial to note that this lifestyle tends to involve a lot of inner-work, and the end results don’t always meet expectations.

That said, what is certain to occur when operating with a growth mindset is an active participation in life, and that’s the key to greatly increasing the probability of hitting on something that works.

The simplest way to execute this self-scientist way of life is through solo missions, because those involve the fewest barriers to getting started, and getting started is the best place to begin something new. Working alone eliminates the need to coordinate schedules, the need to keep others happy, the need to hold anyone else accountable.

Working in a group does have its benefits though, because while the difficulty of the endeavor may increase when adding people to it, the possibility of what could be accomplished increases with it, but in multiples. A bigger project may be more formidable to coordinate and maintain, but when a pack works together, it’s their shared dedicated struggle that can produce a more dynamic output.

A functioning example of this type of unified effort was highlighted in an episode of the podcast Radiolab, entitled “Right to be Forgotten”.This broadcastpresented a small group of employees from the news site Cleveland.com as they engaged with requests from private citizens who were asking that their names be removed from old news stories on their website, with the vast majority of those stories being arrest reports. From the perspective of the people writing appeals to the website, the general argument was that due to the Internet’s ability to permanently retain anything that gets uploaded to it, a person’s history is easier than ever to locate, making it a challenge to be granted a clean slate after, say, having made amends for past wrong doings.

The Cleveland.com collective – which consisted of seven editors and managers from various departments – congregated once a month to review the newest batch of inquiries they’d received. The crew analyzed a wide variety of factors to make their final determinations: whether court documents had been sealed; whether the person had paid their debt to society; whether they had any new offenses; whether they’d shown remorse; etc. In the end, if the group decided to vote in favor of the civilian, the requested name would be removed from its news story on the Cleveland.com website; if they ruled against, the news story was left untouched.

It’s essential to make clear that these decision-making criteria that the group employed when formulating its judgments was not something they found within a foolproof guidebook; instead, it was created while on the fly by its very members. This style of creation wasn’t for one-time use, either; rather, it reflected their ongoing method of operation, which saw these same people who established the criteria also regularly challenge its merit.

At its core, this collection of people didn’t only sift through written requests concerning name expulsions – they built up and tore down the very structure in which they worked.

As if it needed to be underscored even more, there was no oversight committee or ruling body that compelled these employees of Cleveland.com to engage with the public in this manner, meaning these seven people actively chose to devote their time to managing these particular solicitations. But, as a group, they identified that the digitization of the world happened nearly in the blink of an eye, and new practices had to be equipped to keep pace with the changing times. Thinking globally, acting locally.

When attempting to shape a better future, it’s key to remember that slow is often the speed at which change occurs, making it far from uncomplicated work. For their efforts in assigning themselves this indispensable homework, the Cleveland.com representatives should be applauded, and it’s our job as a society to do it. It’s through aiming positive reinforcement at those operating on the edges of their own wisdom that encourages more people in the long-run to dare to attempt similar innovative efforts, and the quality found in the quantity leads the world to a better place.

It must be pointed out that, unfortunately, the worst-case scenario in trying to “do good” isn’t a neutral outcome; because this process takes place on the fringes of our knowledge, miscalculations and omissions are part of the terrain. Without a road map to reference, when taking on this type of challenge it’s imperative to get comfortable navigating the potholes in the road, and the occasional wrong turn or two.

In general, the key to competently operating on your “outskirts of expertise” comes from overcoming your natural human impulse to be embarrassed about making mistakes. This can best be achieved by coming to grips with the fact that, by definition, missteps are part of trial and error, and more likely than not, adjustments can be made along the way. In plain terms, successfully living with this approach to life means tamping down your ego and inflating your capacity for vulnerability.

Indeed, while it may be simplest to practice the art of a life-scientist while unaccompanied, there’s no question that the returns are much greater when a cohesive team is working from a place of good-faith. The constructive debates held between the seven people from Cleveland.com as they dissected requests and amended their self-imposed code along the way illustrates perfectly the potential for this type of trailblazing. Though not everything they tried may have been effective (and outright miscues still occurred), it was critical to the endeavor that they were provided space to safely falter as they attempted to fashion a better way forward.

The things we want most out of life won’t just appear to us out of thin air one day, sparkling and fully formed; we must craft for ourselves what we most desire. Who we are presently was the responsibility of who we were yesterday, but who we are tomorrow is up to us right now; we investigate and advance not just for ourselves, but in honor of those who came before, and on behalf of those who live tomorrow. What will you be?

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