Cover It Up!

Cover It Up!

As a scientist it can be tempting to take credit where it’s undeserved or avoid blame where it’s deserved. In that vein, some of the most obvious reasons to believe in the validity of the Bible come from the timeless wisdom it offers in practical matters.

Early in my career as a Technical Group Supervisor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I led a team of scientists, engineers, and programmers in the design and implementation of a special high-speed digital-signal-processing system called a Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Correlator. One application of this machine was to be for NASA’s Geodynamics Program, where radio signals from distant quasars are collected by several large antennas and processed in such a way as to provide very precise information about the distances between the antennas, even if they are many miles apart. If the antennas are located on opposite sides of an earthquake fault zone, these distances can reveal movements along the fault and possibly serve to predict future earthquakes.

During the debugging phase of this implementation, my team could not track down a particular hardware bug, so a special effort by a few members of the team was planned to research it over the Christmas holidays. Just before leaving on holiday I made a “fix” to one part of the software to help this process.

When I returned two weeks later, the team reported no progress had been made because some new problem had arisen. Upon hearing this news, I began to suspect my fix was the culprit. Sure enough, when I checked, it was wrong. I surreptitiously corrected my mistake and when the others returned, they now reported that progress was being made because the new problem had mysteriously disappeared!

A managers meeting had been scheduled for the next morning, where I was to report on our progress, or lack of it. That night I could not sleep because of the churning going on in my head. Having a creative bent, I tried to think of any possible way I could tailor my report so as to take the blame off myself. But I was continually faced with my knowledge of Proverbs 28:13, which says “Whoever covers his sins will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” After much turmoil, I finally came to an uneasy peace after choosing to just tell the truth.

When my time came to report, I told what had happened and took all the blame for a wasted two weeks. Instead of giving me a tongue-lashing (I wasn’t worried about getting fired, at least not at this point), the program director simply asked what our plan was at this stage, and went on with other things. This was remarkable for him because he was known for being a “table pounder” who had no patience with incompetence. In a conversation with my direct boss following the meeting, he observed that if I had tried to cover up or make excuses, everyone would have immediately seen through it and really laid into me. By being honest, I saved myself a lot of grief and instead gained respect.

This experience taught me how strongly I am tempted to cover up when I make a mistake, and how easily I think people won’t respect me if I am wrong or show weakness. What I discovered is just the opposite. I will be more respected when I am transparent. Also, acknowledging my failures encourages others to do the same.

For a book that’s so constantly maligned, the Bible’s message sure seems to comport well with human experience.