Monday, January 13, 2014

Mistakes: The Ties that Bind Us



In the winter of 2010, I was about to turn in for bed one night only to receive a surprise text message from a young male friend whom I don't hear from often. He wished me a good night.... which was normal, I guess...... and then told me that he was "so completely in love" with me. 

Which was not.

Not long after that, a client with whom I was collaborating on an new writing project texted me to tell me that he, too, loved me..... and would I please pick up some milk on the way home?

It turns out we were victims of the 2010 Android texting glitch, a technological debacle in which the Droid messaging subsystem went bananas for a while and randomly sent texts to the wrong people completely. The results ranged from the hilarious to the horrifying. 

Put yourself in the shoes of these gentlemen and envision their consternation upon learning that their affectionate texts, instead of going their respective ladies of choice, came instead to me. To add insult to injury, one of these poor guys is a former student, who later had the horror of knowing that his lovey-dovey text went to his former English teacher instead of to his girlfriend. (I still can't think of this situation without chortling.)

Fortunately for both of these guys, something similar had already happened to me when I had tried to text my sister about my developing passion for a fictional character. The text went to my father instead, who had the dubious pleasure of opening his phone to learn not only that I had fallen in love at last, but that I had decided to announce this to him via text.

Needless to say, he had questions.

The point here is not the horrible serendipity of the Android text messaging fiasco of 2010. 

The point is that when somebody around you does something stupid and inexplicable, it's helpful to remember that a) he might not have done it on purpose and that b) you've done plenty of similarly stupid things.

The haywire texts were inadvertent, yes, but I'm sure you feel the force of my argument nevertheless. 

The people around you haven't cornered the market on foolishness any more than you have cornered the market on saintly perfection.  So the next time someone pulls a bogglingly idiotic move that confounds or alarms you, just remember that into every life a few mistakes must fall, and next time it's probably going to be you, so you might as well suck it up and be gracious.

Because let's face it, we're all morons sometimes.

I've made the point before, but it bears repeating: sometimes we're all That Person. The person who knocks over the store display, who blocks traffic, who holds up the line. The person who seems incapable of understanding plain instructions no matter how clearly they're articulated. 

Flip through your mental filing cabinet until you find the folder marked INEPTITUDE. Put your hands around it and lift it out. Feel the heft of it. Sift through that bulging packet with a flush of embarrassment, remembering the time you fell asleep and snored during prayer group, the time you poured a waterfall of coffee down the front of your shirt during a meeting, the time you fell down an entire flight of stairs in front of your crush.

Instead of becoming complacent in our judgement of the people whom we deem to be the morons of the world, perhaps we could seek to discover a shared sense of awkwardness. Perhaps we could allow our mutual mistakes to be some of the ties that bind us together rather than wedges that drive us apart. 

Not that we should glory in stupidity. Not that we celebrate ignorance and folly. Not that we use human frailty as an excuse for bad behavior. Not that we confuse deliberate cruelty with mistakes or mistakes with bad choices.

It's just that by contemplating a sense of our own ridiculousness, we might be able to gain a little bit of perspective. 

Because as many times as we've scratched our heads over the absurd behavior of the people around us or have wanted nothing more than to shake our fists while screaming "Et tu, Brute?!" at the sky, it's good to remember that there are also days that we could direct that sentiment straight into the mirror. 

The fact that we make mistakes is not unique. Everyone makes them. We all screw up and fail and act like children. 

We mess up, and the people around us mess up.  

It's what we do.

HOWEVER.

It's not the making of mistakes but the handling of them that sets us apart, because how we handle mistakes -- whether our own or the mistakes of others -- says something about who we are and Whom we serve. 

So let's concentrate less on the mistakes themselves and more on whether or not we are responding with grace, compassion, and humor. 

Because demonstrating these three virtues is never a mistake.

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