Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sub par

“I make mistakes like the next man. 
In fact, being--forgive me--rather cleverer than most men, 
my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”

- J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

We all fall short in some way or the other. To someone or the other. Thinking about it, it is impossible not to. Aren’t the odds against us? I mean, there are about 7,212,761,200 people and counting... as I write this, to compare myself to. As absurd as it may sound, that seems to be pretty much what most of us do.

If by some freakish happenstance I look better by comparison, then I ought to scrutinize myself and not snicker at the one I am compared to. Though I must admit, I find it so much easier to just indulge instead in an inflated sense of self. It is decidedly much easier to revel in the praise even if I honestly don’t feel worthy of it. But it is, in fact, a perfect opportunity for a moment of pause - am I the best I can be? Of course not. I never am. Then how about I resolve to die trying.

If I look bad by comparison (which is the norm), even if sometimes it is only in my own eye, press the ‘scrutinize self’ button again. There are million moments of gratitude and million opportunities for grace in my life. I might not be as good as all others in many scales of comparison, then again, am I the best I can be? No, I never am. But I shall try. Rather than giving in to despair, frustration, envy and resentment.

And what about all those missteps and mistakes we make. I, for one, make them all the time. Sadly, I even repeat them, many times over. What can I say, I guess I am a slow learner. Or just slow. But aren’t mistakes bound to happen, even to the best of us? I haven’t met anyone who has this game of life all figured out. Okay maybe a couple of them do. Or at least I think they do.

What troubles me is this aversion we have to mistakes. This general, all encompassing reference to choices we make while living our lives. This prevalent intolerance to slip ups. Aren’t we evolved enough to discern those colossal blunders that are detrimental to ourselves and to others from the ‘merely-perceived-as-mistakes' which are totally blown out of proportion? Or is that the sole source of our fear? A fear that we are incapable of telling them apart so better to avoid them all. 

Why are we forever wary of tripping over our actions and judgments? Why are we paralyzed by this fear of making the wrong turn? Why are we so worried about being frowned upon? By the same token, why are we quick to judge others for their perceived missteps? And why does that, even more quickly, bring out the smugness and self-righteousness in us? Are we so sure of ourselves that we cannot see the shoe on the other foot?

If a mistake is to be defined as something that brings about an undesired outcome, then isn’t it possible that it is not entirely wrong? Only something that is unexpected and possibly misunderstood even? Isn't that what Edison meant when he talked about him finding 10,000 ways that did not work. If that is so, then aren’t we holding ourselves back only because we are shortsighted about our future? And who has 20/20 vision about their future anyway.

Here is an analogy - One morning last week, I was very carefully inching my way forward across a long, slippery path to work (hmm... I guess there is an analogy within an analogy), all the while picturing myself taking a tumble and landing on my face. Lo and behold! I actually took a tumble. It shouldn't have felt incredulous but it did. And all I could say to myself while scrambling back up to my feet was, “Jeez, I fell !!!” (yes, I was that surprised. My words were so loud in my head that I could almost hear it). Immediately followed by, “ I hope nobody saw me”. (Yeah right, in this world of CCTVs I am absolutely sure that I provided comic relief to someone at work). And then belatedly, came the sensible, “I hope I didn’t break a bone”. What was even more surprising was the fact that shaken as I was by the fall, I moved better with a sure foot and a faster pace than I had before the fall. But more importantly, the scene that was looping in my head earlier was switched off. I think I can glean a lesson from that.  

While I embrace this new sport of ‘walking on ice’, here is something for me to wonder about and work on - to cut me some slack and to those that fall short in my judgement. Or better yet, just not judge at all. Now that's a tall order.