week five: mistakes

summer 2018, Uncategorized

The general struggle of the human race, I think, is its inherent fallibility. Being mortal and limited in our knowledge–along with other struggles, such as clumsiness and moral failings–we often make mistakes. How we process those mistakes, however, says a lot about our character. 

I’ve spent plenty of time during these past few weeks grappling with mistakes and how I ought to deal with them. With my general clumsiness and my brain’s ability to seemingly disconnect from the rest of the world, I’ve done many dumb things, especially during the first few weeks of my stay on the ranch. The decision to put me in charge of large vehicles is not without its dangers, after all.

Thus, I’ve become aware of my own special talent for making mistakes.

More specifically, I am superb at mistakenly doing stupid things. All the practice I’ve had over the past few weeks has marked the importance of this distinction in my mind because it insists that the blame is mine. I have had a lot of practice (rightly) redirecting blame at myself recently because I have done quite a few things during the past few weeks for which I need to take responsibility.

For instance, during my first week back on the ranch, I managed to take out part of a gate while driving into a field, completely uprooting the gate post and leaving the formerly pristine gate a tangle of metal rods.

In such a situation, there’s only one thing to do: call my uncle, apologize profusely, and get to fixing the disaster I created. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t intend to destroy the gate. Though I occasionally joke about my destructive capabilities and the “joy” it brings me, I generally aim to do no harm. Nonetheless–I did harm, and so the first thing to do is to own up to my actions.

Owning up, of course, sucks. Admitting one was wrong or did something one shouldn’t have is an unpleasant business, but it’s a necessary element of maturity. However badly the action may reflect on the actor, failing to take responsibility for one’s actions generally has an even worse effect.

One’s willingness to fix–or attempt to fix–what one has harmed is the second necessary part of this process. In my case, this meant clearing away the debris and mangled gate, removing the remains of the gate from the fence post, and then digging a new hole (about three-and-a-half feet deep) for the post. It was hard work on a hot day, but I was able to stand back and know that I had done all I could to reverse the negative effects of my actions.

That’s the crux of it, I think: attempting to fix that which one has destroyed with a spirit of humility. It’s not about instantly self-deprecating or going through the  “if only I had…”s or instantly calling myself a failure–my common reactions after I do something idiotic. For me, at least, the goal isn’t to spiral downward while looking backward in time; it’s about looking forward.

I suppose there’s one more important thing to consider: not repeating history. If I can make a mistake, take the blame for it, fix it to the best of my ability, and then not do the same thing again–well, that’s success. After all, “failure is success if we learn from it.

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