Why Our Mistakes Must Not Be Allowed To Define Us

Why have we come to think of life in such dire terms?

The answer is that stories of mistakes and failure surprise us. They are unexpected, and therefore, trigger alarm and heighten our interest.

It is a bleak commentary that of all the good content on this blog, the most read and “googled” post is one of deep sadness and woe.

The German philosopher Hegel once remarked that happiness is “the blank pages of history” because they are “periods of harmony.” Happy people generally live out their lives in obscurity.

History, on the other hand, is more often than not made by the disgruntled and discontented, the angry and rebellious—those interested in exercising authority and exploiting others and their victims.

Is it really possible that all the good things we’ve done will be dismissed and forgotten if we also happen to exercise our human nature and make mistakes?

To paraphrase a popular television soap opera, “Like sands in an hourglass, these are the blank pages of our lives.”

But shouldn’t real life be different?

Although life as it’s lived in the real world is peppered with suffering, stresses, failures, injustices and foul play, it is, for the most part lived out in hundreds of small acts of kindness, mentoring and generosity.

In short, it is the extraordinary comfort and compassion we give to others that creates goodwill, establishes the bond of sociality, and gives joy to people’s lives, even if it not been given the serious attention it deserves by our historians. Or by our television newscasters. Or  by our leaders. Or by our pastors. Or by our “friends.” Or even by ourselves.

Anybody’s blank pages can be filled in and, through the love of others, complement the pages already filled with dissonance.

Anybody’s story can have a happy ending.


Is it possible for us to empathize with another’s joy? Or will we continue to allow those pages to be blank?

Oftimes empathizing with another person’s joy comes from a deep understanding of their struggles. Another person’s empathic embrace can even transform one’s own suffering to joy.

Is it possible for us to write in the blank pages of each other’s lives?

Carl Rogers puts it poignantly:

When a person realizes he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense, he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying, “Thank God, somebody heard me. Someone knows what it’s like to be me.

Question: In the words of my therapist, “How does this make you feel?”

If these words filled in a sentence or two of your blank pages, please share them and fill in a sentence for someone else by taking a moment and clicking one of the buttons below.

This post was greatly influenced by Jeremy Rifkin and his book “The Empathic Civilization.

10 thoughts on “Why Our Mistakes Must Not Be Allowed To Define Us

  1. When we are hurting, there is often empathy and sympathy.
    When we sin, there is often gawking and gossip.
    When we are happy, there is the sound of crickets chirping in the distance.

    Silence speaks louder than words, doesn’t it?

    And it is not always a pretty commentary on the human condition.

    We are told to rejoice when our brothers and sisters rejoice! We are told to weep with them when they weep. We are told to have compassion and carry one another’s burdens.

    But we often fail at all those tasks. I know that I have. I pray you have folks who are walking with you who are holding you up, weeping with you, laughing with you and helping you carry any burdens that are weighing you down.

    And I pray you have someone who is able to share in your joy AND make you laugh on a regular basis. You know, the person who can make you laugh just by raising their eyebrows a certain way or who can say one word and make you roar in laughter? There is a special place in our hearts for a friend like that, isn’t there?

  2. Oh, Randy, I need to read your blog more because whenever I do I am intellectually satisfied and spiritually challenged!

    A lot of my emotional sickness has centered around allowing my mistakes to define me, but I’m letting go of that (I would say I completely let go, but I know I still wrestle with it.) I am learning to believe what God says about me and see myself as He sees me–and that is living with joy. And in choosing joy, I am also learning to experience joy with others! I’ve been great at crying with people…yet I don’t think I’ve LIVED WITH people. Even more, I’ve felt jealously at their joy, for I did not understand it. Through choosing joy, I have also experienced happiness and PEACE. Thank God, and I say that with moistened eyes. :)

    1. Wow! Amy, your words are intellectual and challenging as well. “I am learning to believe what God says about me and see myself as He sees me–and that is living with joy.”

      Thanks for adding so much to this conversation!

  3. I am a screw-up. I mean I have REALLY been a mess at points in my life. To some people that will always be who I am. They will never forget my sin. They will always delight in my failures.

    God has released me from guilt. He has forgiven me from my sins. When I choose to focus on that I can deal with the others.

    My healing came when I begged God and those I wronged for forgiveness. When I humbled myself and took blame, attitudes started to change. When I focused on being who God created me to be He started healing. When I truly chose to see their hurt and pain , knowing I had caused it broke me. I know we serve a God who puts shattered pieces back together.

    Praying for you!

    For those who can’t forgive, that’s on them. I deserve it and it’s their choice. For those who have chosen grace joy abounds. Stronger relationships are forged.

  4. all i can say is thanks. i needed to hear that today. and to answer the question, i don’t know how i feel anymore. i guess my answer would be numb.

  5. It’s our nearsightedness that causes us to see others from the viewpoint of a recent failure. I think the true entrepreneurs (and friends) have better vision that that.

    I’ve been reading the Steve Jobs biography and there are many, many times that he failed or that his people didn’t get something right. Instead of dwelling on the mistakes of the past, he looked at what caused those situations and attempted to remedy them and make sure they don’t happen again.

    Seth Godin said, “All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else.”
    context http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/04/how-to-fai.html

    I think the truly extraordinary people are the ones, when hit with failures and obstacles, who push forward, learning from the past and create a better future from the experiential living of day(s) before.

    I hope that each day my vision gets better as I see others and myself.

    If this is an introspective post, I REALLY look forward to this next Chapter of life that you’re in. It’s going to be a truly great chapter!

    2 cents (possibly worth 2 pesos depending on inflation)

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