Today our youngest turns 21. With all of our children now in the “adult” category (whatever that means), I can certainly look back at things I would have done differently. I might be tempted to say — as some have said throughout history: Mistakes were made. While that’s true, it’s not true enough. I made mistakes in parenting & marriage. I still do.
As Red Skelton once said, “All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.”
Of course, it’s not just men. Women have been known to commit a blunder or two, too. It’s just that married men keep their mouths shut about those. Or, at least: it would be a mistake not to.
In my last post, I wrote about Tolkien’s opinion of Disney. Another writer with British connections took a different perspective. In 1974, Raymond Chandler wrote to Brian Sibley to defend Disney and his dreams about the future. He closes the main body of the letter with these words: “… Stop judging at such a great distance. You are simply not qualified. Disney was full of errors, paradoxes, mistakes. He was also full of life, beauty, insight. Which speaks for all of us, eh? We are all mysteries of light and dark. There are no true conservatives, liberals, etc., in the world. Only people.”
Mistakes come with the territory of living life in this world. So what do you do with your mistakes? How do you handle them? Ignore them? Pretend they didn’t happen? Blame someone else? Plow ahead anyway? Flush it away? Or face them, and learn from them?
The truth is: we learn a lot more about someone, not if they make mistakes, but how they handle it when they do.
In April 1865, D.H. Donald describes how Abraham Lincoln wanted to reconvene the Confederate legislature of Virginia so that they could formally withdraw their state from the rebellion. Lincoln faced opposition from his cabinet. They asked: How could he recognize a body that he had refused to acknowledge all throughout the war? How could he overlook the Unionist government that had been established in Virginia? Finally, Lincoln backed away, admitting to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that “he had perhaps made a mistake, and was ready to correct it if he had.”
This from a man who had led the Union to victory, and was just days from his unexpected death. He could have been arrogant, overbearing, demanding, confident in his own leadership. Instead, he was able to own his miscalculation.
Disney and Lincoln were very different people. So are you and I. But what they — and we — have in common is that mistakes are made. By us. What separates us from others, however, just might be our willingness to own up to them, learn from them, and grow.