We would all rather be right than wrong. If things are going off the rails we would happier not being the ones at fault. Success certainly feels better, there’s no denying it, but failures and mistake will always be a part of life. As the human animal has evolved the primitive fight or flight survival instinct has also developed into a self-preservation reflex. We not only want to survive we also want to feel good about ourselves. It’s a natural impulse. As with all things in life, however, how we achieve this is just as important. Sometimes it can be more important.
We are going to make mistakes in life. We are going to get things wrong, we are going to fail, to trip and stumble and mess things up, and sometimes thing will just plumb not work out. It is simply a part of life. Of course we would like the ratio of failures versus successes to lean as heavily as possible to the success side but mistakes and failures will always be there. The ideal scenario is to learn from our missteps and improve our results the next time. Sounds simple, but it’s not.
Failure feels crappy enough on its own but our society has developed a nasty habit of equating success or failure with worth and value as a person. We don’t just admire the success we idolize the persona, which automatically sets us up to treat perceived failure with the opposite reaction. This then exacerbates the innate crappy feeling of failing by compounding it with an ever present fear of being judged, ridiculed, or dismissed if anyone sees or knows about it. And our technologically connected, always accessible, and constantly visible online lifestyle surrounds us with selectively filtered examples of other people’s supposedly perfect lives which simply pours rocket fuel on the flames.
So it is no small wonder we have a cultural epidemic of feverishly trying to conceal mistakes and failures or otherwise placing the target and fault elsewhere if at all possible. The world of politics has turned this into a frothingly zealous dogma providing us, constantly, with the most obvious and exaggerated examples of the paradigm at work. One doesn’t have to look too hard, however, to see it at play in the normal day-to-day levels of life as well. Our current cultural impulse is to instantly go on the attack rather than accept personal responsibility. We all just start casting stones seemingly convinced the winner will be the one with the quickest arm and sharpest rocks.
The trouble is there is no such thing as life without mistakes or failures. Convincing ourselves failure is evil, or letting the culture around us convince us of it, only serves to shackle us with paralyzing fears about something which is not only a constant in life but also a necessity. We need to fail in order to learn, that’s simply how life works. We have to fail, accept and examine what we did which failed, then attempt different and better approaches the next time. There are no shortcuts around that and always shifting fault to others causes far more damage than it pretends to fix.
Once failure becomes the enemy it only grows more powerful
Success may be the goal but failure is not the enemy, it is merely an obstacle along the way. If we allow failures and mistakes to become the enemy then our focus shifts from achieving success to avoiding failure. Instead of motivating us to push harder it demotivates us away from trying at all unless we can be guaranteed success. Failure feels lousy but accepting, coping, and learning from it are crucial skills for achieving genuine success in life. If we never fail then we never develop the ‘muscles’ needed to deal with it which only makes failure seem all the more terrifying a monster. Shifting the responsibility for it to someone else is a false reprieve as it spawns the fear of it coming back or worse, being discovered.
The only way to conquer the failure monster is to accept that failing is simply a part of living, a part of learning, and remembering we are not merely the sum of our successes and failures. They are only aspects of our journey. What truly demonstrates our quality is how well we handle both.
Deceptions come with constant cost
Always deflecting and diverting fault and blame to others can be described as a misdirection, but misdirection is a form of deception.
: the act of causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid
Since a deception is a distortion it is unable to sustain itself without constant reinforcement. If we tell a lie and wish it to persist we will then have to continually maintain it. If we place fault where it doesn’t belong we will have to ceaselessly expend effort forcing it to stay there. The adage holds true about not having to remember what you’ve said if you’ve been truthful. Telling the truth neither requires constant draining vigilance nor engenders the gnawing paranoia over remembering what we’ve said and to whom.
Accepting our own responsibilities enables us to focus our energies on growing, learning, and living. It frees us from the constant exhausting fears of being discovered.
Hair-trigger blaming habits erode trust
Being known for always placing fault and blame on others quietly places a stamp of expendability onto all of our relationships. If the fault always lays with someone else then all relationships and interactions someone might have with us come with the implication that at any moment they could be potentially the next one to go under the bus. Thus people are never fully able to trust us. Not only does that lack of trust eat away at our relationships but it seeps back into ourselves as well. The sense of defensive mistrust serves to fuel our paranoia further heightening the perceived consequences of failure or discovery exacerbating the entire cycle.
Being willing and able to accept responsibility for our failures and mistakes engenders trust and loyalty. Not only because it demonstrates our capacity to cope when things go wrong but also that we won’t lash out at those around us when they do.
Shifting blame also strips us of the power for genuine action
If the fault for things is never ours then neither is the power to actually do anything about them. Assigning the blame to others also gives them credit for, and thus the power for, all relevant action. If we ‘didn’t do anything’ that gives us less power and involvement not more, less responsibility also means less power to be part of the solution. It might seem like it could set us up to then swoop in like a hero solving a problem someone else has caused but that ends up only putting more pressure on our actions, not less. The scrutiny and expectations heap higher on our heroic effort because if it fails we look worse than our previous scapegoat. Thus the fear is increased not decreased.
Failure and mistakes are part of living and learning. If we want to learn and grow from them we must first claim them rightly as our own. It may initially feel crappy but it is the only way to give ourselves the genuine power of choice, growth, and productive action.
It would be lovely to say that scapegoating never works, that the exhaustion and inherent flaws drag down anyone foolish enough to resort to the practice. Sadly those who can shout loudly enough can bully their way forward with it and in our current culture the greater the financial wealth the louder one can shout. It can be incredibly disheartening to see but the cost is always there.
It may not show in the form of financial ruin, interpersonal pariah-dom, or criminal conviction but the cost is there nevertheless. The constant fear and deception takes its toll on every aspect of a person’s life and no matter how much effort they put into convincing themselves they are ‘free’ and ‘winning’ their experience of life is still one of paranoia and simmering panic.
Life is a challenging journey which can be downright exhausting even at the best of times. Far better to spend our energies on genuine growth so that the pains and fears and efforts we go through lead to achievements which will actually last and can be freely appreciated and shared with others rather spending all our time running from self-created demons.