Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Protecting from mistakes misguided

Protecting from mistakes misguided

(My Clovis News Journal column for December 12, 2014)

Human beings will always make mistakes.

It would be nice to protect people from mistakes, but that desire is often misguided. You can warn people; some might even listen. Some won't and you'll watch as they suffer consequences. Some mistakes will be fatal. That's reality, and there's no way you can change it, no matter how tightly you try to control the world.

You might make up rules to forbid others from doing things you believe would be mistakes. This is also a mistake. People don't learn by being told what not to do. In fact, your efforts will probably encourage irresponsibility, and make mistakes more tragic. In spite of the wishful thinking at the foundation of all politics, you can't live other people's lives for them- you can only live your own.

No one is immune to mistakes. I know I have squandered opportunities, taken the wrong path, and made the wrong choice many times. It happens less frequently as I learn from past mistakes, and it doesn't mean mistakes from long ago don't still have ongoing consequences.

People learn because mistakes have consequences. You may think that sounds cruel, but isn't it worse to ensure a person never has the opportunity to learn? Go ahead, try to save those you see making a fatal mistake, but remember: they'll probably learn nothing from the experience and you won't always be around.

I can't tell you how many times I told my daughter the stove top was hot, but I do know it only took one time touching it for her to learn and remember.

Even worse than making your own mistakes is forcing those who know better to go along for the ride. It's really bad when you drag people with you. Those who know better should be able to stand aside and let you go over the cliff if you can't be talked out of it. Forcing them to join you is not civilized.

Then again, what one person considers to be a mistake, someone else might consider the goal, and forbidding them to pursue it could be wrong. This is why no one should have the power to run the lives of others. After all, you never really know how the future will unfold, and preventing someone from doing something which might turn out to have been the right thing should overwhelm you with just as much guilt as sitting by and watching someone get hurt by their mistakes.

Give your best advice, if it is welcomed, then it's up to the other person to accept it or reject it, and it's then your responsibility to get out of their way.


  1. Toleration is the price we pay for a civilized society.

    1. I like that idea better than the silly notion of "taxation" being that price.