“To Err is Human”

In a few days, we’ll see the ending of 2017 and the dawn of a new year.  New Year’s resolutions will be thrown around by those looking to improve their lives, to find what’s been lacking this year, to fix bad habits they knew have long-since needed ridding.  Personally, I’ve never been a much of a “resolution” person, though that comes down to personal preference.  But when New Year’s rolls around, I do always find myself doing a fair amount of introspect and self-examination, reflecting on the year and what I’m taking away from it.

Holding up a song entitled “Live And Learn” as embodying this mentality may seem a little cliché, but I find that the song of that name by The Cardigans does so, in a more nuanced way than the title would indicate.  The upbeat alternative rock piece is about making mistakes and learning from them, but more lies beneath the surface than that.  True, its verses mourn mistakes while the chorus flippantly insists, “I live and I learn,” but when the bridge hits and turns to the final chorus, it becomes clear that this is a façade.  After yet another misstep, lead singer Nina Persson admits, “I don’t know what I’ve learned”; in the energetic climax, she goes a step further to say, “But if you live as you learn / I don’t think I can learn.”

Ultimately, it’s a song about complacency; its first two thirds casually shrug off mistakes expecting that the experience alone will fix that, only to realize that it doesn’t come so easily.  It feels all-too relevant at this time of year, with failed resolutions on their way and a year’s worth of mistakes dismissed and doomed to be repeated.

Nonetheless, I take something empowering out of it.  Perhaps it’s the upbeat rhythm and the inherent optimism in its titular phrase, even if “cliché” doesn’t go far enough in describing its overuse; maybe it’s the light guitar and Persson’s voice accompanied by the backing vocals, particularly in a proclamation like “Hell yes I lived.”  For that matter, maybe it’s just my initial reading of the song—before I properly internalized its overall story—overpowering what I know it to be.

But maybe it’s that this is an experience all of us have, that “to err is human,” even in the process of correcting other mistakes.  “Live And Learn” stumbles and falls, and perhaps its motivational mood isn’t intended unironically and is rather supposed to be a poignant contrast or appropriate accompaniment to its own difficulty to acknowledge that “live and learn” isn’t truly a solution.  Still, the song stands to me as a reminder, not a hopeless cautionary tale; it may take a number of tries, it may take a long time of actively hindering yourself or setting goals you’ll fail to meet, but it’s not impossible.  We’re all stumbling through life, trying to do our best and improve ourselves, and that’s all you can really do.

This all feels more than a little trite, but as I said, I can never resist an opportunity for New Year’s reflection, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2017, it’s the importance of being critical, of making mistakes and failing to fix them, but continuing to try your best to change things.  And I know “Live And Learn” is going down as the proper way for me to close off a turbulent but valuable year in my life.

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