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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: If only we had an undo key

Published: Monday, March 3 2014 5:22 p.m. MST

Have you ever spent hours working on a document only to press something and have the whole thing disappear? Thank goodness for the undo icon. You click it, and suddenly everything is back again.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have our own undo icon? Many times, we say or do something that needs an undo key. We push it and unsay our hurtful words or reverse our stupid acts. Next, we type the correction. We compliment, not criticize. We are kind, not gruff. We are slow with rebuke, not shotgunning the whole personality. We use sharpness to communicate a single point of clarity, focusing on the error, not the person.

Cars have a reverse gear. Wouldn’t it be equally great if we could have the same undo? It would be a reverse different from just backing up from a parking spot. When we throw the car into this new reverse, we back up from places of harm that we have traveled or visited. If we go too fast or cruise for trouble, the magical reverse undoes the trip to self-destruction; it cancels the accident and puts the bullet back in the gun.

Digital cameras are similar. They store images that you can review an instant after you push the button. You go back and erase or undo the bloopers, the out-of-focus shots and the ones with the closed eyes. Then you try again, but this time everyone has a big smile.

The closest thing in real life to an undo key is to say, “I am sorry.” It is not as if the words hadn’t slipped out or the anger had never happened. However, it will have to do in a universe where time moves unhindered and unrelentingly forward.

Unless done right, “I am sorry” is more like the old typewriters. When you typed the wrong key, you would have to either come up with a different word containing the miscued letter or pull out the white correction fluid. Remember Wite-Out? You backed up to the errant letter, dabbed on some liquid, and blew on it or fanned it with your hand. When it was finally dry, you covered over the mistake with a new key. Heaven forbid you do it again.

But a reader could always see the spots and the effort to undo. You would get credit for the paper, but you could get marked down for its appearance.

To get the old feeling back, I am going to type a paragrayph without using the undo bu key. No wonder we would had to pull all nighters. We dould take took hours coreecting the mistakes. You can see why the undo icon is so dear to me.

Of course, the solution would be not to make the mistake in the first place. That takes practice, both in typing and in all other aspects of our lives. As my dad used to advise: Correct practice makes perfect.

We can practice nice by being nice. Practice being an engaged parent or grandparent by being emotionally engaged. Practice forgiving by forgiving others and yourself.

Even after hours and hours of practice, a concert pianist still may touch a middle C and not a B. We may still speak unkindly in times of stress. We may go off and do something stupid in moments of depression or thoughtlessness. In the language of faith, the undo key is repentance. If done sincerely, repentance should leave no marks, but sometimes there can’t be a total do-over.

One can pay for the damage to a car, but we cannot take away the limp inflicted on the other driver. Neither can we bring back the dead. Trust can be equally tough to regain.

In this imperfect world, the best we can do is to practice typing and living so we won’t need the undo icon. However, when we mess up, “I’m sorry” is the right key to push.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing physician for 30 years and a hospitalist at Primary Children's Hospital and the University of Utah.

Email: jgcramermd@yahoo.com

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