What “crucible” means

I need to record something that happened at the end of The Crucible. It was significant to me and it didn’t make it into this blog. During the talkbacks, a frequent question would be, “Why is the play named The Crucible?”

“Well,” I would reply, with great authority, “the word ‘crucible’ means a tipping point. Imagine a seesaw. The place where it balances is the crucible. So Miller is using the word to illustrate the way the choices in the play can go one way or the other.” Sounds good doesn’t it? The only problem is that it’s complete bullshit. I have no idea where I got this idea from. But I know I didn’t make it up. I had this distinct memory of someone telling me this. Recently, I heard a piece from the radio show This American Life about the dangers of a little bit of information. In the show, a person talks about writing for “Jackass Magazine” when they go on and on about something they know very little about. I was writing for Jackass Magazine, in front of my peers and thousands of young people, for about two months.

By the end of the run, some in the cast began gingerly approaching me. “Ben?” they would say, “I checked up on it and I can’t find that definition of the word ‘crucible’ anywhere.” My first reaction was bluster.

“Bosh! I’ll find it and bring it in for you.” Then I went looking. Imagine my distress.
So after the very last show, I gathered everyone together and made a comical and public apology for my mistake.

This was significant for two reasons. One was that no one ever told me I was mistaken. I think this had to do with the authority I generated when I spoke. This is a dangerous ability, the ability to sound authoritative even when one is full of it. I could raise some questions about politicians and academics, but I won’t. You get my drift. I was alarmed that I had fallen into this trap myself, and it was a useful warning.

The second reason it was significant was that I apologized for it. This is relatively new behavior for me. I hate admitting I’m wrong. I’d rather eat something disgusting, all the while proclaiming it’s tastiness, than admit someone’s assessment of it was better than mine. I am proud of that confession and apology. It is a sign of progress for me.